From left are Rotarian Annie Fruge, Richard Fontenot, and Rotary President Peter Strawitz. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Rotary learns about effects on agriculture
As the state was bracing for its sixth weather event of the year in Hurricane Delta, Louisiana Farm Bureau Third Vice President Richard Fontenot spoke at Tuesday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Ville Platte about the effects of Hurricane Laura on agriculture in Southwestern Louisiana.
He said the hurricane caused about $450 million of damages in terms of production and about $1.1 billion when it comes to the state’s timber industry.
“Forestry is the number one agriculture product in Louisiana,” Fontenot said. “We still have a lot of private land owned that’s in timber. We have a lot of mom-and-pops and retirement acreage in the forestry industry, and they’ve lost their whole retirement. They’ve lost a lot of money as it relates to estate planning. So, it’s a dynamic impact.”
The livestock industry also took a major hit following Hurricane Laura. Fontenot said most of the cattle producers were able to move their heads of cattle north in enough time, however, the damages were to infrastructure such as fencing and corrals. What livestock made it to higher ground in time had to deal with mosquitoes following the hurricane. “We lost about 100 head of livestock in Evangeline Parish alone because of the mosquito situation as it relates to Laura,” said Fontenot.
Fontenot went on to say the parish is very blessed after Laura when it comes to production. He said close to 90% of the rice had already been harvested as well as the soybeans that were ready at the time. “There was no dire impact to agriculture in Evangeline Parish,” he expressed.
Even though there were no challenges to production, Fontenot said the challenges come into play regarding how to get the products to market.
“The Port of Lake Charles handles probably 65% or 70% of the exports of rice grown in this area,” Fontenot explained. “We have the crop here in Evangeline Parish, but we have a more difficult logistical issue of getting the crop out.”
Fontenot then talked about the effects on the crawfish industry related to COVID-19.
“This past year,” he said, “we came out a lot better than we anticipated in terms of moving a lot of product, and the price was fair with the COVID situation.”
He continued, “We lost a lot of our restaurants, but what saved the crawfish industry was every corner of every town had a little boiling shack or boiling hut” that was able to get the live product and sell it to those driving-thru or picking up.