Louisiana agricultural diversity, ports important for trade

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Louisiana’s diverse agriculture industry helps make the state an important hub of global trade, commodity
group representatives told foreign dignitaries visiting the LSU AgCenter on Sept. 4.

The dignitaries, who are agriculture attachés with the embassies of about 30 countries, were in Arkansas and
Louisiana Aug. 31 to Sept. 4 as part of a tour organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign

Agricultural Service. While in Louisiana, they visited the AgCenter’s Audubon Sugar Institute and heard
presentations from experts at Global Agriculture Hour, an event hosted periodically by AgCenter International

Louisiana produces a wide array of plant and animal commodities and is home to ports that move American
products to international markets, said AgCenter economist Lynn Kennedy.

“Most of the exports in the United States are flowing through the Mississippi River by barge,” Kennedy said.

“They come to the Port of South Louisiana, the Port of New Orleans for export. That’s a very important thing
for this state — that kind of agribusiness that’s propelling the economy.”

About 60 percent of America’s grain exports moves through Louisiana ports.

Rice, cotton, soybeans and wood products are top exports for Louisiana, Kennedy said. Key trading partners are China, Canada and Central and South American countries.

Louisiana benefits from having an earlier harvest of crops such as soybeans, Kennedy said.

“Our harvest is before any of those other countries,” he said. “In order to get the new crop, Louisiana is the
state that comes out first. We have a little advantage over some of those other states with respect to prices.”

However, two crops important here — rice and sugar — have sometimes been the center of trade disputes,
Kennedy said. Countries sometimes import rough rice or raw sugar and process it themselves.

But Louisiana’s economy benefits from selling rice and sugar that have been milled and refined at local facilities.

Cotton was once a dominant crop but has been planted on declining acreage in Louisiana since the early 2000s, said Bobby Skeen, executive vice president of the Louisiana Cotton and Grain Association.

But as worldwide demand for grains went up, many cotton farmers found those crops easier to grow.

Cotton also “struggles with demand,” Skeen said. High cotton prices a few years ago made synthetic fibers a
more attractive option.

Cotton acreage in Louisiana is about 164,000, according to the AgCenter’s 2014 Ag Summary.

The Louisiana cotton industry competes with about 75 million acres of cotton grown worldwide. The U.S.
grows about 9 million acres. India is the largest producer with about 30 million acres, and China is the largest
importer and spinner of cotton, Skeen said.

Louisiana’s forestry industry also contends with international issues, said Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association.

Landowners rely on migrant and seasonal workers to plant trees and keep up with rising demand for wood products, he said.

Wood pellets, for example, are an increasingly popular fuel source in Europe and are produced in Louisiana,
Vandersteen said.

Rice is another Louisiana commodity that helps people around the world, said Jackie Loewer, chairman of the Louisiana Rice Research and Promotion Board.

“It’s a food that is beneficial for the hungry,” he said.

Louisiana has about 450,000 acres of rice, representing about 14 percent of U.S. rice production, Loewer said.

However, about 70 percent of Louisiana rice is exported, compared to 45 percent of American rice as a whole.

Mexico and Canada have been reliable trading partners for rice, Loewer said. The recent reestablishment of U.S. relations with Cuba could open a market for Louisiana rice there, too.

Kyle McCann, associate commodity director of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, said Louisiana has
shown versatility in responding to global demands.

As cotton acreage dwindled, soybean, corn and poultry industries grew.

“We change as the markets trend,” McCann said. “It’s all very reflective of what goes on in the export market.”

“It was an honor to host this group of very important international agriculture dignitaries and inform them
about Louisiana agriculture and the role of the LSU AgCenter,” said David Picha, director of AgCenter
International Programs.

“This forum provided an excellent opportunity to establish professional linkages and initiate dialogue on future collaborative activities.”

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