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Local groups discuss ways to boost, diversify agriculture

Last Modified: Thursday, February 07, 2013 9:26 PM

By Doris Maricle / American Press

JENNINGS — For agriculture to maintain future growth, Southwest Louisiana will need to increase agritourism, promote locally grown products and educate others on the importance of the industry.

That was the message a dozen farmers, landowners and agriculture businessmen sent Thursday during a discussion in Jennings on ways to boost and diversify agriculture as well as attract more young people to agriculture careers.

George Swift, president and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said the growth in the agriculture industry has a critical role to play in the economic development of Southwest Louisiana.

“We feel like we have a lot of opportunities in Southwest Louisiana to increase our agricultural economy to include farming, agricultural businesses and agritourism,” Swift said.

Swift also believes Southwest Louisiana has a vital role to play in feeding the rest of the world.

“There is a great opportunity because the world needs more food and we have plenty of people and land here that can produce that,” he said.

Agricultural production is the largest economic generator in Jefferson Davis Parish with the total value of agricultural commodities exceeding $140 million, the LSU AgCenter says.

However, profitability has become more difficult because of increased cost of production, greater pest pressure and increased regulatory requirements.

“We need to look at our strengths and weaknesses as well as identify opportunities to improve agriculture and how we can assist agriculture producers,” Swift said.

A similar meeting was held Wednesday in Beauregard Parish. A meeting is planned for Feb. 28 in Calcasieu and in Cameron and Allen parishes in March.

Information from the meetings will be compiled into a report and presented to Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, facilitator Sara Jubson said.

“As long as there will be a rice industry in Louisiana, I think Jeff Davis Parish will be there,” former county agent Eddie Eskew said. “Rice is our No. 1 crop and we consistently grow good rice.”

The parish currently has 82,000 acres of rice, followed by 32,000 acres of soybeans and 22,000 acres of crawfish, the LSU AgCenter said. Other crops include sugarcane, hay, turf grass and beef cattle.

“If agriculture left tomorrow, there would be nothing left here,” agriculture lender Steve Broussard said.

Rice is a very small commodity in the United States when compared to other crops, crawfish farmer Burt Tietje said.

The industry needs to do a better job at marketing rice and opening up new avenues for marketing its product, he said.

Parish Economic Development and Tourism Director Marion “Butch” Fox said the area also needs to promote more agriculture-related industries including crawfish tours, bee pollution, festivals and hunting. There are also more opportunities for small farmer growth in the area, including vegetables, beef and smaller animals like goats.

“We are agriculture-based and have opportunities to move forward and provide opportunities to the people,” Fox said.

Among its strengths, the group listed the accessibility of the area to ports, roads, railways and airports. Location, land, water and weather were also high on the list.

Weaknesses included lack of diversity of crops, restrictions and lack of markets.

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