Floods, big business risk Louisiana farms

Kathryne LeBell, Views Editor

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This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

The business of agriculture has long been on the decline in the United States. It’s a global phenomenon that developed nations prioritize service industries, while developing nations are left with farming as their driver for gross domestic product growth. That being said, agriculture is a driver for economic growth and should be used as a tool to uplift rural communities. The August floods that hit Baton Rouge and surrounding areas caused an estimated $277 million in damages — a steep cost that almost matches the budget deficit that the state has been battling for over a year. To aid these struggling communities, Louisiana and the federal government must act to defend southern agriculture.

Standard economic theory agrees that as a region grows richer, agriculture declines. With 46 percent of the world population living in rural areas, however, this is just not feasible in the modern global economy. The same is true of Louisiana. Though there have been general positive trends in G.D.P growth for the state, Louisiana urban hubs barely rank against other American cities. Meanwhile, 16 percent of the state population is rural.

Even worse, the United States farm industry is undergoing problematic structural changes. On Sept. 20, representatives from six of the largest agricultural giants, Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical and Syngenta, appealed to the U.S. Senate to approve a massive merger. In theory, this seems like a financially beneficial way to account for dropping agricultural profits in America. It seems dangerous, however, to put the responsibility of feeding billions of people in the hands of three corporations — this would render it an oligopoly.

While large companies with firms in rural areas can bring jobs, there is an underlying risk that they will underserve their workers. Low wages are a major issue in Louisiana. The average income for the state is approximately $10,000 less than the rest of the country. Food security is also a concern, with 17.6 percent of Louisianans struggling to obtain food in 2015.

Highlighting agriculture will not fix all of Louisiana’s problems; Governor John Bel Edwards will be releasing the exact numbers in a month, but the ongoing budget deficit continues to pose concerns.

Louisiana, however, has a relatively small population and would benefit from aggressive policies promoting small business and state-owned agriculture. It would bring profits back to the people, which would be taxed, helping relieve the business tax component of the deficit. It would help tackle the issue of poverty and food insecurity in the state. In the long run, it would assist the people of Louisiana, rather than the wealthy transplants in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

As of Sept. 14, State Agricultural Commissioner Mike Strain and Governor Edwards traveled to Washington D.C. to appeal for agricultural aid alongside disaster relief aid. It is yet to be seen whether this will cover more than a fraction of the costs. Looking forward, state officials must advocate for the protection of Louisianian farmers and push agriculture as a way to set Louisiana afloat. At the national level, we must turn our eyes to the global agricultural oligopoly that is forming and work to protect the interests of those who matter — individuals.

Kathryne is a senior at Newcomb-Tulane College and can be reached at [email protected]