Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans,pushes for aid for farmers

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans,pushes for aid for farmers

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, on Thursday urged the U.S. secretary of agriculture to declare Louisiana an agriculture disaster to help the state’s agriculture industry recover from hurricanes Gustav and Ike and Tropical Storm Fay.

During a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, which Landrieu co-chairs, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said Louisiana has suffered a $750 million loss in the agriculture and fisheries industries.

The hearing was designed to measure the impact of the 2008 storms on Louisiana’s agriculture industry.

“Our farmers in every region of Louisiana have suffered extreme losses from the recent disasters,” Landrieu said. “This hearing made the suffering in our agricultural community all the more clear.”

Landrieu said Congress is getting ready to pass a continuing resolution to find the federal government, and she hopes some of the community development block grant funding for Louisiana will be used as direct assistance for the state’s farmers.

Landrieu questioned Deputy U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner about a request to declare Louisiana an agricultural disaster, a declaration that would make the state eligible for federal assistance. Landrieu and the Louisiana congressional delegation asked for the declaration on Sept. 10.

Conner said assessments on the disaster declaration for Louisiana are still being made. He also said regulations for the Supplemental Revenue Assistance program, passed in the Farm Bill, are not complete.

“That program, even if it was finished today, is wholly insufficient for the problem,” Landrieu said. “I’m asking you to declare Louisiana an agricultural disaster and to come up with extraordinary help for an extraordinary disaster.”

Strain said the state’s farmers, ranchers and fishermen need help now.

“We cannot wait a year,” Strain said. “Our entire farming economy is on the verge of collapse.”

Also testifying before the committee were two Louisiana farmers, Wallace Ellender, a sugarcane farmer from Bourg, and John Harwick, a cotton farmer from Newellton.

In the past three years, sugarcane farmers in Louisiana have been affected by four 100-year floods, Ellender said. A 100-year flood is one that has a chance of occurring every 100 years.

“We are going to do this relief,” Landrieu said. “I would hope that Congress would act very quickly to provide it, instead of a slow process when this Congress is seemingly willing to provide an expedited process for Wall Street.”

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