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|State ag commissioner visits Concordia; says crop damage 'greatest' in history|
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain told Concordia Parish farmers on Tuesday that he has witnessed unprecedented crop damage throughout the state -- "the greatest in Louisiana history."
Strain addressed about 200 area farmers at the correctional facility on Hwy. 15 in Ferriday during a meeting to address historic crop losses due to the storm.
"There was not one parish that was not affected," he said. "I've never seen this much damage through the entirety of a state."
Strain estimated that direct farm losses are in excess of $500 million and predicted the numbers will to rise.
Assessment teams from Louisiana State University did field surveys immediately following the hurricane determining the initial loss of cotton statewide at 47.32 percent of the crop, amounting to an estimated $112 million in losses.
"We expect these crop estimates to grow as we move through the harvest," he said. "That could push that up to between $750 million and $1 billion."
Strain said the numbers have been forwarded to Washington D.C. in hopes of Concordia and other northeastern Louisiana parishes being included in federal disaster relief.
Concordia and Catahoula parishes were excluded from the declaration made by President Bush as were most of the parishes northward.
"I understand that you've got more money invested than ever before," he said. "We understand that and we've got to make sure that D.C. understands that."
Strain assured farmers that he, the governor and legislators were doing everything possible to make sure the area is included in the declaration which would open up funding for disaster assistance and recovery.
In the meantime, he urged farmers to sign up for assistance with FEMA, take photographs, keep accurate and detailed records of crop damages and clean-up. He also suggested that they apply for every program possible through the local Farm Service Agency office.
Drainage issues and disaster assistance in the current farm bill topped the list of issues farmers wanted to know more about.
"We understand there a lot of drainage problems in this section of the state. We have to work on that -- we've got to address Cocodrie Bayou," said Strain.
Cocodrie Bayou, designated as a scenic waterway, is the primary source of drainage for Concordia Parish.
"It will take an act of legislation to either suspend the designation as a scenic waterway or obtain a temporary permit to do the work needed," he said. "We've done some of that in the lower parishes."
"We have to make sure our legislators make it a priority of the administration -- we have to improve an infrastructure that has been ignored the last 20 years," he continued.
Strain also agreed that disaster relief in the current farm bill "is inadequate."
"It leaves a lot to be desired. We need a better game plan looking at disaster. Farming is the largest business in the state," said Strain. "We've got to pull through this."
"This is the worst farm disaster I've seen since I've been an ag agent in the last 34 years," County Agent Glen Daniels said after surveying crops late last week.
"We had water go over some four to five-foot tall cotton, he said. "Soybean fields were flooded."
He estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the corn crop and a substantial amount of the rice crop were "blown down," and that soybeans are "soft and mushy."
"I have never seen soybeans where the wind took all the hulls leaving nothing but a stalk," said Daniels.
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