Louisiana ag leader class visits California

Richard Bogren, Soileau, Robert J.  |  6/23/2009 1:08:55 AM

News Release Distributed 06/22/09

Briefings on agricultural issues and farm visits highlighted a study tour to Santa Barbara County, Calif., June 8-12, for the current class in the LSU AgCenter’s Agricultural Leadership Development Program.

“Santa Barbara County is a great place to visit because of their diverse agricultural operations and all of the state and local regulatory issues impacting agriculture,” said ag leadership director Dr. Bobby Soileau.

Soileau said the overall value of agriculture in that county was $1.1 billion in 2008. Strawberries, broccoli, wine and avocados are the leading crops.

The LSU AgCenter group saw strawberries first-hand at two locations. DB Specialty Farms, which produces 670 acres of strawberries in Santa Maria, is one of the largest operations in the county and sells berries nationwide under the Giant brand. The group toured strawberry fields during harvest.

Later, the class went to Teixeira Farms in Santa Maria, which leases a large amount of acreage for strawberry production and has a large state-of-the-art cooling facility for berries. In addition, they grow lettuce, broccoli, celery and other vegetables on 1,200 acres. The class observed celery harvested and packaged in the field.

The class also toured two wine facilities that represent different aspects of the industry.

Terravant Wine Company is a new, full-service wine industry-support facility that provides custom crush services for farms in the Santa Barbara County area. It also has a wine-analysis laboratory as well as a 40,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse for storing case goods.

The ag leaders also visited Bridlewood Estate Winery in Santa Ynez, which produces wines from chardonnay, pinot noir and Rhone varieties.

During the trip, the group met with avocado and cut-flower growers. Although each operation was great to visit, the message from each grower was the impact of state and county regulations that are affecting their ability to stay in business, Soileau said.

“It was certainly the perfect place to see the interface of where agriculture and environmental issues meet,” said Hank Jones, a crop consultant from Winnsboro. “Though we may be several years from facing those kind of issues, it is very good for us to come away having a better idea of how to combat lawsuits that seem frivolous and excessive to our agricultural community.”

“This trip was an excellent learning experience for our class,” Soileau said. “We want them to understand that they have to be more proactive with a number of issues. That is the leadership challenge for many of our class members in the future.”

Participants in Class 11 include individuals engaged in farming, ranching, forestry, the nursery industry, wildlife and agribusiness. Members of the class are:

Joyce Allen and Bob Allen of Batchelor, Erle West Barham of Rayville, Michael Blazier of Homer, Don Branton of Ferriday, Epney Brasher of Amite, Errol Domingues of Erath, Todd Ellefson of Mandeville, Hunter Fife of Mangham, Stuart Gardner of Sunset, Benny Guerrero of Oak Grove and Hank Jones of Winnsboro.

Others include Wilson Judice of Centerville, Amelia Levin of Amite, Chad LeBlanc of Arnaudville, Jeannine Meeds of Big Branch, Donna Morgan of Pineville, Jenni Peterman of Alexandria, Christian Richard of Kaplan, Scott Shepard of Oak Ridge, Howard Smith of Wisner, Brian Spillman of St. Francisville, John Thevis of Simmesport, Dwayne Viator of Youngsville and Jennifer Young of Zachary.

Travel for class 11 is underwritten by endowments in the LSU Foundation, including the Chalkley Family Endowment, the H. Rouse Caffey Endowment and the Ag Leaders of Louisiana Endowment. The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation also contributes to the program.

Rick Bogren

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