Sunday, 23 June 2013

Louisiana Blog

Hi everyone, on the plane to Washington, leaving Louisiana was sad to leave as we all had a brilliant week staying with our new friend Reggie Skains on his farm in North Louisiana. Reggie, who is also the Mayor of Downsville (smaller than Parndana) hosted us on one of his properties where we had the luxury of staying in one place for a entire week! A group of visiting Australians is a big deal in a place like Downsville, where most of the farmers rarely get to a city in Louisiana, let alone overseas. Hence there were not too many early nights with different locals dropping in most nights to have a drink with us.

A bit about Agriculture in is a very diverse state in regards to Agriculture with forestry being the biggest income earner for the state. We passed wall to wall pine forests which when harvested are taken to chipped at a mill within a 30 mile radius (I talk in imperial now!) and then trucked to the local paper mill in West Monroe. Forestry is particularly popular with older farmers which do not have children coming back on the farm, as it is a lot easier to manage than a grazing or cropping operation. The next biggest industry is broiler rearing. Similarly to Australia, farmers are contracted to grow out chickens for the processors, where the chicken and feed is supplied by the buyer. It is the farmers responsibility to house the chickens for up to 9 weeks and they are paid on weight and feed conversion. Most farmers are achieving a 1:2.1 feed ratio conversion. The biggest production challenge the chicken farmers face is heat and humidity, the humidity when were there was incredible, and in these conditions chicken losses can be high. Despite this challenge, good chicken farmers are only having 3-4% mortalities. It seems that having a broiler house is not a get rich quick scheme, with a shed costing $250 000 to build and the net income from that is $20 000 per year, not much given they have to be there to look after them every day of the year and working on a batch to batch contract. The chicken litter out of their sheds also provides extra income, and a cheap way to fertilise cattle grazing pastures, with some paddocks typically getting 12t/ha of litter per year.

We saw numerous cattle operations in north Louisiana, being such humid and tropical climate, most farmers are running Brahman composite cattle, usually a brangus to help cope with the intense heat. Most farmers sell their calves in early summer via a video auctioning system. Cattle are grazed on tropical grass pastures consisting of Bermuda and Bahaia grass, low quality in terms of energy and protein but very fast growing. Cattle prices are at record highs at the moment, with 300kg steers selling for $4/kg!!

We spent a day travelling down to the delta region of the state, where the land flattens out and we are essentially on the old alluvial flats of the Missisippi river. Very fertile and the land is worth twice that of the hill country in North Louisiana (delta = $4000/ac). 41% of all surface water run off drains through to the Mississippi and out of New Orleans, it is also the key freight route for all of the US Grain exports. There is a huge levee system which directs to path of the river and assists in controlling flooding. Key crops in this area are corn (yielding up to 12-15t/ha), soybeans and rice. We had a very interesting meeting with Lannie Philley at Delta Land and Farm Management, an impressive company which owns a rice mill, rice drying operation, a transport venture and banking. Lannie had some frank observations of US agriculture stating that the rice industry is in for some tough times as it is the highest subsidised crop in the US ($160/ac wheat is only about $13/acre) and as of October 1 this year direct payments or subsidies will no longer exist in the Revised US Farm Bill (more on this in my Washington blog after I go to Capitol Hill). It is forcing rice growers to become more efficient, a comment made by the rice growers in our group was that his yields were not that flash given their climate compared to Australia. Just another example of the inefficiency that is bred out of subsidising agriculture!

This leads me to another highlight of our week in Louisiana, a visit to Landrys vineyard near Monroe, who are culturing the rednecks of North Louisiana with their wines, they even have a wine called 'redneck red'....anyway it was the venue for a great networking opportunity with the heavy hitters of Louisiana agricultural politics, we even had senators fly in on their private jets to meet with us...we had a great night swapping information and the key things I took out of it were, even if politicians are not from the same party they still work as a team for the common result (not like Australia!) and they could not fathom how Australian farmers make a living without subsidies and direct payments. It was great to get an insight into the Agripolitics of the US and has put me in good stead for our stint in Washington DC.

Well I am aware that this blog is getting a bit long but a few comments on the Louisiana culture, we made quite a few friends during our stay and the people are incredibly friendly and generous, their accent took a bit to get used to and I had morenthanone conversation where I had no idea what was said! The food tasted great, we tried crawfish (like yabbies), cornbread, bullfrog legs, alligator, fried green tomatoes, catfish, shrimp and I don't think a day went by that I did not consume at least 1 burger! No one in the group lost weight in Louisiana that's for sure!

Well that is all, if you made it to the bottom of this page, thank you for reading :)

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