WELSH, LA. (KPLC) - Health Care, Cap and Trade and trade with Cuba are all issues farmers want to talk about with U.S. Representative Charles Boustany, R-Louisiana. Boustany held his annual forum with farmers this morning at the Welsh Community Center.
Boustany says he is working to address concerns such as increasing regulations that increase the burden on farmers as they seek to compete globally. As well he is optimistic trade will be re-established this year with Cuba, which will be a major boost for rice farmers.
Right now it's cold and wet and a time when rice farmers are doing things like getting their farm equipment ready, because before you know it March will be here and planting will begin. It's a time when costs are a constant concern for all farmers and cattlemen many of whom gathered for an opportunity to visit with Boustany.
Rice farmer Clarence Berken says a big issue is opening up the export market in Cuba. "We used to trade 700,000 metric tons of rice to Cuba or sell that to Cuba. And we don't have that possibility anymore. There's been a lot of rhetoric about talking to Iran, about talking to these other countries. We have the Colombia free trade agreement that's out there that's not being acted upon. Some of these markets have as much as a a75 per cent tariff on rice going into those countries. And so we have to fight that all the time."
Boustany is optimistic a bill he's helping to sponsor will open up Cuba. "It'll make it easier for exports to be shipped to Cuba by simplifying the financing and the credit process. And secondly, opening up that travel ban so that you don't have those restrictions on travel to Cuba."
Another issue is increasing regulations and Cap and Trade that farmers say will make it harder to make a living at a time when agricultural cuts are expected. Says Berken, "Some of the regulations that we will have to adhere to that our competitors in Thailand and Viet Nam will not have to adhere to and it puts us at an unfair disadvantage."
Health care is also a big issue for farmers who, like most small business owners, struggle to find accessible and affordable care.