St. Charles Parish losing farmland at alarming rate
More than half of area’s rice production has been lost in last few years
Strain said St. Charles Parish has seen large tracts of agricultural land bought up, removed from agricultural use and set aside for wetlands mitigation projects to offset levee and industrial construction.
Several landowners have been paid through such programs to set aside property once used for agricultural purposes. According to Strain, the impact in St. Charles Parish has been significant with a loss of 8,000 acres.
Rene Schmit, LSU AgCenter agent for St. Charles Parish, said much of the land lost in St. Charles Parish over the past few years has occurred in Bayou Gauche. Texaco owns a large tract of land in the area that was leased by cattle ranchers, but many of those ranchers have been kicked off the property.
According to Schmit, Bayou Gauche is responsible for 85 percent of all cattle production in the parish and the cattle population is about 3,100.
Because cattle ranchers have not been able to lease the Texaco land, about 6,000 acres of cattle ranch land, or around 24 percent of all cattle ranches in the parish, has been lost.
“It is an important loss. I estimated at one point right around a $1.8 million loss to the parish annually,” he said. Schmit said the overall loss of agriculture land due to both mitigation and continued development in St. Charles Parish has been substantial.
“If you put loss of land due to other issues, not just mitigation, but loss of land due to housing as well you’d be looking at 15 to 18 percent over the past 10 years,” he said.
According to Strain, the biggest problem is that St. Charles Parish has been losing available agricultural land as the need for more agricultural products has increased.
“Across the United States and the world there is a great need to increase production of food and fiber for the U.S. and world population,” he said.
Strain said many states have already begun projects to preserve agricultural land and he believes Louisiana lawmakers should increase their focus on protecting land used for agricultural purposes.
“There will be a time when it will be a national priority to farm every available acre that is environmentally sustainable,” he said.
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