Bruce Schultz, Richardson, William B. | 3/26/2009 7:30:49 PM
News Release Distributed 03/26/09
JEANERETTE, La. – The Acadiana Legislative Delegation, concerned about the effects of potential state budget cuts, unanimously passed a resolution supporting the restoration of sufficient funds to the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry at a meeting with farmers here March 25.
LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson said he was encouraged by the support. “Our message that agriculture is a priority in the state is gaining traction,” he said.
Richardson told the gathering that the proposed more than $13 million in cuts to the AgCenter budget would mean programs such as 4-H would be hurt, affecting a large number of youth.
Richardson said $3.8 million in budget cuts imposed this fiscal year have resulted in not filling key positions. For example, sugarcane extension and research work has been affected. “Now we’ve got one person doing two jobs,” he said.
The Acadiana delegation is made up of 47 legislators in 22 parishes. Chairman of the delegation, state Rep. Jonathan Perry of Abbeville, said agriculture is the state’s largest industry, and 240,000 young people statewide are affected by the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H programs.
“I think this is a much bigger picture than people realize,” Perry said. “We’ve got to stop the bleeding. This is detrimental to every person sitting in here.”
One legislator who is not a member of the delegation, Harold Ritchey, said the cuts would hurt his constituency in Bogalusa where forestry is a dominant part of the economy. “I think it’s unacceptable having these folks take these cuts.”
LDAF Commissioner Mike Strain said agriculture continues to be a major part of the state’s economy. “In many of our parishes it is the only economy.”
Strain said work by the LSU AgCenter has helped farmers survive with higher-yielding crop varieties. But he said variety development is a process that takes several years, adding that the Jazzman aromatic rice variety from the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station was more than 10 years in the making.
Strain said his department faces up to $8 million in cuts that would require 230 layoffs, including half of the department’s forest fire crews. He said he already laid off 40 people this year because of budget cuts.
Wilson Viator, a sugarcane farmer and mayor of Youngsville, said sugar producers have managed to stay in business because of cane varieties developed by the LSU AgCenter.
“We need to keep the funding in place,” Viator said.