Federal program restores profitability – and dignity –to Louisiana shrimp industry

Linda Benedict  |  3/6/2014 2:38:09 AM

Olivia McClure

Louisiana shrimpers have received more than $18 million in the past three years from the federal Trade Assistance Adjustment for Farmers program (TAA). To receive these funds, shrimpers were required to complete several hours of training conducted by the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant.

TAA, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, seeks to financially assist producers negatively affected by imports, while providing them with valuable technical training. The financial assistance is coordinated by the USDA Farm Service Agency.

About 2,300 Louisiana shrimpers took part in more than 100 workshops between November 2010 and December 2011, according to LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry, who led the state’s TAA effort.

The first TAA for Farmers program was available 2004-2006 and was not reauthorized again until 2010. Guidry said the second round of TAA was a significant upgrade from the initial version, in which producers completed a three-hour workshop and received payment based on how much shrimp they sold in the past five years.

This time, producers had to complete a two-hour orientation, a short-term business plan and 12 hours of training taught by AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant personnel. The shrimpers then received up to $4,000 in direct financial assistance. If they wrote a long-term business plan and it was approved by TAA, they were eligible for up to $8,000 in additional assistance.

“These funds were an important boost to Louisiana’s struggling shrimp industry,” Guidry said, adding that operating costs have risen and cheap imported shrimp is probably not going away.

However, the biggest benefit of the TAA program was not the money, Guidry said. The training component has had a lasting effect that will make Louisiana shrimpers more efficient and competitive. It also laid a foundation for AgCenter and Sea Grant agents to do more outreach work with shrimpers in the future.

Participants took classes on technology, ways to reduce costs, how to diversify operations, best handling practices, marketing and federal regulations. They also learned about how to use this information to write a long-term business plan, which Guidry said few shrimpers in the program had ever done.

“That process of collecting information and developing a business plan in and of itself is very useful,” he said. “It’s forcing these fishermen to really take a detailed look at their operation and see how they’re doing things and look for ways to improve.”

Many shrimpers in Louisiana do not speak English. Thu Bui, AgCenter and Sea Grant marine agent for St. Mary, Iberia and Vermilion parishes, translated educational materials and conducted 26 training sessions in Vietnamese.

Albert “Rusty” Gaudé, AgCenter and Sea Grant fishery agent for Jefferson, Orleans, St. Charles and St. John parishes, said Louisiana had the biggest TAA program in the nation. Shrimpers in Jefferson Parish, which had the most participants of all Louisiana parishes, received more than $5 million from TAA.

“These fishers were at a financial disadvantage to compete in the global shrimp industry,” Gaudé said. “It was difficult to live a dignified normal life with their income. This program was an attempt to provide balance.”

While most shrimpers have received their money from TAA, the momentum that the program established has continued, Gaudé said. People involved in delivering the TAA training have developed outreach techniques and a message that is still being infused into the fishery industry through programs such as the Louisiana Fisheries Summit, an annual event that launched in 2013.

“The impact was the restoration of financial stability for the shrimpers and their morale for the leaders of this state to acknowledge that they had a problem with this imbalanced industry,” Gaudé said. “The combination of the cash in pocket, the opportunities that were given to them – to improve the way they shrimp physically, record-keeping, taxes – it was the whole nine yards. All of these things gave them tools they did not have before TAA.”

Olivia McClure is a student worker with LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article was published in the 2014 winter issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

 

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