FILE - Soybean farm

Climate change, cannabis and growing the state’s farming industry were among the topics discussed Monday by three candidates to be Louisiana’s next commissioner of agriculture and forestry.

Republican Mike Strain, the incumbent and a veterinarian by trade, said the value of the state’s agriculture industry has more than doubled since he took office in 2008. He said he has paid down debt that he inherited and streamlined the department.

Strain said agriculture exports have increased on his watch and touted his experience in helping to hammer out trade agreements as head of the national association of agriculture departments.  

“Feeding the world is our greatest challenge,” Strain said.

The Department of Agriculture and Forestry oversees the state’s medical marijuana program. LSU and its medical cannabis vendor have provided about 10,000 units to state-approved pharmacies, Strain said, while Southern University is building a new facility and hopes to have products in pharmacies by late fall.

Marguerite Green, a farmer, supports fully legalizing marijuana for adults as a way to bolster the state’s tax base. She said she wants to help farmers, particularly those with small or mid-sized farms, diversify their crops and help the industry reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change.

If elected, Green says she will appoint a task force to develop a plan to sequester atmospheric carbon and to incentivize industries to enact sustainable practices that protect communities from the impacts of climate change.

Green said one of the main reasons she ran for the office is that she wants to help young people enter the farming business, suggesting tax incentives and including farmers in national public service student loan forgiveness programs as possible solutions.

Democrat Peter Williams, a tree farmer and agribusiness consultant, says he would focus on developing industrial hemp production, which the legislature legalized this year pending federal approval. He said he wants the department to do more to help farmers and related businesses with technical assistance and continuing education.

Williams called the current trade war a “manmade disaster,” and said he would work across party lines and departments to set up some sort of safety net for farmers that would help them when politics interferes with doing business. He said he supports youth organizations such as 4H and FFA, which he said have been cut from many schools, because they encourage young people to enter the agriculture industry and help keep them out of trouble.

The candidates spoke at a forum hosted by the Baton Rouge Press Club. Democrat Charlie Greer and Republican Bradley Zaunbrecher also are seeking the office but did not attend the forum, though the Press Club says they were invited.  

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.