The Mid-South and parts of the Southeast have “unique advantages” that could make the region increasingly important in meeting projected future food and fiber needs for growing populations, says Mike Strain.

That increased production “will occur in areas with the natural resources to support it,” he said at the 2010 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.

Strain, Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, says water availability, increasingly a limitation in other parts of the U.S., will be a key advantage for much of the South.

“We’re blessed with surface water and ground water,” he says. “Water is going to be increasingly precious.” Many areas in the West and Southwest are already facing water curtailments, he notes.

Southern states “can capitalize on this vital resource,” Strain says, and farmers need to stay involved with state governments and various agencies “to be sure agriculture gets its share.”

He also urged that producers carefully study cap and trade proposals in Congress that are part of climate change legislation, “because I believe this will increase costs for everything related to energy — everything you touch as a farmer will cost more.

“I personally am against this,” Strain says. “By the time everyone gets a cut of the money they’re saying cap and trade would generate, nothing will be left for the farmer. Regardless of how you stand on this issue, please make sure your elected representatives know how you feel. It’s a pivotal issue that could change everything we do economically and agriculturally.”

Other proposals would strengthen the role of the Environmental Protection Agency, Strain says.

“Statements have been attributed to the EPA that if Congress doesn’t act on cap and trade, the agency will. That’s absolutely frightening — that the EPA feels it can bypass the will of Congress on an issue so far-reaching.”

Legislation has been proposed for state departments of agriculture, he says, that would regulate and oversee the application of pesticides, fertilizer, and other crop materials. “You need to keep informed on this and get involved, because it could be potentially very damaging to your farming business.”

After 100 years of U.S. growers fighting the boll weevil and collectively sustaining billions of dollars in losses, Strain says Louisiana hopes in 2010, after an 11-year effort, to declare the pest eradicated.

The eradication program, a multi-state effort already successful in several states, is of great value to cotton growers, Strain says. “Pre-eradication, our state’s cotton growers were averaging 600 pounds per acre; in 2007, several years into the program, yields averaged 1,137 pounds per acre. Science, technology, and producer cooperation have all played roles in the program’s success.”

Cotton was the basis for an economy in the South, and was one of the nation’s key commodities,” he says. “It’s still a huge contributor to Louisiana’s economy — valued at $150 million directly, or $300 million including secondary value.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com