Loading facility to help export rice nears approval

The following is a news release from the LSU AgCenter:

CROWLEY, LA – A facility aimed at helping farmers export rough rice to Mexico by rail is progressing and could be in operation by next year, the Louisiana Rice Growers Association Board of Directors learned at a recent meeting.

Jim Watkins of Welsh reported to fellow board members on June 17 that the rail facility to load rice at Lacassine is closer to being built.

He said the corporation formed to run the facility has 155 members who have paid $5,000 each to join, resulting in $775,000 in cash, in addition to $200,000 from the Jefferson Davis Parish Economic Development Authority. Watkins said $1.8 million in state money has been proposed for funding next year at the urging of Gov. Bobby Jindal in the capital outlay bill.

If the funding is approved, he said, that pledged money could be used to obtain a loan.

"Best case scenario, this time next year it will be operational," he said.

The loading facility is intended to move rough rice to Mexico, and Watkins said several Mexican rice mills are interested in shipments as soon as possible.

In other business before the board, Kevin Norton, state conservationist from the Natural Resources Conservation Service said it is possible that rice farmers could receive compensation for creating wildlife habitat in their fields on a long-term basis.

Norton also said a proposal that came from the Louisiana Rice Growers Association last year to compensate farmers on a continuous basis for the benefits that rice production provides to wildlife may become reality.

"I'm very optimistic that we have the right kind of package," Norton said.

The proposal would be separate from the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, an approved emergency measure to pay farmers to keep their fields flooded this year to provide overwintering areas for waterfowl this year only. The expectation of the MBHI is that the effort will stop birds before they move to the Gulf coast where oil has been washing ashore.

The habitat program still being considered would be for five years if it is approved, but the habitat initiative is for this year only, Norton said.

In the meantime, he said, participation is low in the Conservation Stewardship Program, which will help cover costs of conservation measures on qualifying cropland, pastures and timber forests. The deadline is June 25.

"We are not getting a lot of folks signing up," he said.

Payment limitations have been adjusted in the farmers' favor, he said. In addition, provisions have been made to allow flexibility in the program.

Board member and farmer Jeff Durand of St. Martin Parish said his family farm is participating, and he urged farmers to consider enrolling in the program. "It's worth looking into," he said.

Norton also reported that repairs are underway to fix the Black Bayou Culvert that has been leaking saltwater in Calcasieu Parish into the Mermentau River Basin. He said 220 sandbags are being used to plug the leak.

"We are already seeing a substantial reduction in saltwater flowing through there," Norton said.

The repairs resulted from an emergency contract awarded by the state Department of Natural Resources, he said, and NRCS is working with that agency.