June 22, 2007
Reported by: Britney Glaser
One bill that has passed through the House and finally the Senate this week in the 2007 Legislative Session is to allot funding for a study on the decline in minority farmers in Louisiana. In our part of the state, only five African-Americans actually cultivate and farm their own land - it's a number that gets at the heart of the minority farmers who want to see their way of life continue.
Eddie Pitre got his start farming back in 1946. "I planted soybeans," says Pitre, "rice, wheat, corn." You can see the joy in Pitre's face when he talks about his passion for farming, but times have been rough. "We caught a hurricane one year," says Pitre, "and it damaged my crop and I never caught up since."
Natural disasters and the risks involved in farming have left a heavy mark on Louisiana farmers. Kirk Smith with the Farm Service Agency says, "It is quite substantial. I would say we've lost more than half or greater...I'd say between 50 and 75 percent." Within the black population, the numbers are even more staggering. Fifty years ago, the number of black farmers in the U.S. was 30 times higher than what it is now.
Smith and Pitre say the decline in minority farming can be attributed to a number of causes. "Farming is difficult," says Smith, "it's very difficult and the profit margin is very slim." Pitre believes it comes down to finances. "It's the money," says Pitre, "because most of them can make more money just working construction."
Changes could be on the way. State Representative Roy Burrell's bill to address the decline in minority farmers has successfully moved through this legislative session, bringing attention to the few black farmers still working the land. The bill offers hope to truck-patch farmers like Eddie Pitre, "Something good will probably come out for the black farmers," says Pitre, "otherwise it will just stay like it is, if you don't try to dig into it."
Pitre is ready to see that digging start now.