Last Modified: Wednesday, August 08, 2012 2:39 PM
LACASSINE — Nearly 2,000 barrels of raw rice from area farmer Glenden Marceaux is waiting in storage at a new $4 million high-speed rail facility nearing completion in rural Jefferson Davis Parish.
Marceaux’s rice will be used to test the facility’s operation.
“They needed rice for the facility to check the grain elevators and to calibrate the scales,” said Marceaux, who is the vice chairman of the South Louisiana Rail Facility. “We’re anxious to make sure everything works fine.”
The owners hope to have the facility open by the end of the month, although construction continues on a grading room.
“It’ll take a little while for the grading room to be ready, but the rice coming in can still be manually graded,” Marceaux said.
He said that without a vision in mind the facility would not be a reality today.
“It has been monumental at best, but it’s a project that we could have never dreamed of or gotten this far with without the help of so many people from the growers to the governor’s office,” Marceaux said.
The state Bond Commission approved $2.3 million for the facility last month. Other funding sources including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state, area farmers and private sources have provided financial support.
Jefferson Davis Parish Police Juror and rice farmer Mark Pousson said the facility will provide marketing options for growers, including those with excess rice.
“We were looking at what we could do to improve our marketing options,” Pousson said. “We had been growing rice for hundreds of years, but we needed another option. This rail facility was it.”
The facility will allow farmers to export nearly 800 metric tons of rice, corn, soybeans, wheat and other grains on a year-around basis to Mexico, South America and other global markets via rail, reducing transportation costs.
“The target is to get rice to areas like Mexico that can only get it by rail,” Marceaux said.
The U.S. has good rice, but has been losing the market to Brazil and Argentina because of mixed quality. The rail facility will provide stable-quality rice, ensuring the grain’s integrity from the field to the facility.
State Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, who toured the facility Monday with U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, said the rail loading facility is a “tremendous opportunity” for Louisiana farmers to market their rice.
“There are many partners involved in this project from the farmers to the Jefferson Davis Economic Development Commission who have been working with the state,” Strain said. “They have all been working together and at the end of the day, it’s all for the farmers to get better prices and a way to market what they harvest.”
Construction on the rail facility began earlier this year on a 2.4-acre site just north of the existing railroad at the Agri-Industrial Park off La. 101 and Interstate 10 in Lacassine.
The facility includes four grain storage tanks, conveyors, grain elevators, grain-handling equipment and an overhead rail scale. A rail system and other infrastructure is already in place for the facility.
The Police Jury, state Department of Agriculture and the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority signed an agreement last March to lease the 2.4 acres — with an option for more land in the future — to the South Louisiana Rail Facility group for the rail project.
Under the agreement, the Police Jury will own the facility and sublease it to the South Louisiana Rail Facility for $1,500 a month.
Nearly 160 farmers, landowners and other investors from Jeff Davis, Allen, Calcasieu, Cameron, Acadia, St. Landry and Vermilion parishes helped raise $800,000 in seed money for the project.