Editor’s note: On March 23, Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D. V.M., leased 2.4 acres of state-owned Lacassine Industrial Park to the South Louisiana Rail Facility and Jeff Davis Parish in a signing ceremony at the Jeff Davis Parish Police Jury office.
“My office, the legislature, police jury, area farmers and businessmen and the Jeff Davis Economic Development office have been working on this rural economic development project diligently for more than a year,” Strain says. “The new grain facility’s ability to load many rail cars at once will allow these area growers to compete in markets in Mexico and Central America that were previously unavailable.”
The spark for this high speed rail loading project started with a few rice farmers from south Louisiana taking a trip through Mississippi and Arkansas to visit with another group of rice farmers. They saw rice being loaded on barges, rail or going to two large rice mills.
Mark Pousson, who farms near Welsh, La., says, at that point, the following thought crossed their minds: “How can people be railing rice to Mexico right through our front door?”
After returning home, it occurred to them that the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry owns 200 acres on the I-10 corridor in Lacassine, two one-mile rail spurs on the main track, two truck scales, a scale room and a sound road infrastructure for easy access.
“It’s right in the heart of rice country,” Pousson says. “All we needed was something to put rice in that rail car and load it fast. A couple of engineers who are rice farmers that trade with Mexico recommended about 150,000 bushels of storage capacity and a certified weight to attract the buyer. More specifically, this translated into four 40,000-bushel grain tanks, 25,000 bushel-an-hour elevator legs and a 30,000-bushel overhead rail scale.”
$5,000 Contributions Begin To Mount Up
When Pousson talked about applying for the $3 million capital outlay, he was told that it was a long shot, at best takes three or four years, and they would have to raise 25 percent of the money for the legislature to consider the project. This challenge resulted in Pousson, who serves on the Welsh Police Jury in Jeff Davis Parish, along with Bill Wild, another rice farmer who serves on the same Police Jury, and several other producers holding five community meetings to explain the project and ask people for $5,000 contributions.
“Not far into it, we had raised $300,000,” Pousson says. “But we needed more. At that point, we were looking at a June 1 deadline, so we started beating on doors, beating on pickup hoods, whatever it took. One week we picked up another $165,000, and, by June 1, everybody jumped on board, and we had $780,000 to take to the legislature.”
The South Louisiana Rail Facility Is Formed
Although the Jeff Davis Parish Police Jury is the mechanism for the funding, it can’t be in business. Thus, the South Louisiana Rail Facility (SLRF), a limited liability company (LLC), was formed and consists of 156 members, all of whom had contributed $5,000 a piece.
“The SLRF is made up mostly of farmers but also includes landowners, businesses and open-minded community people,” Pousson says. “We held a membership meeting and elected a board and officers. Then we went to the state, which gave us $1.8 million.”
Senator Dan “Blade” Morrish and Representative John Guinn, both of Jennings, helped to procure this capital outlay money to partially fund the project. In addition to the $780,000 raised by SLRF, the Police Jury has applied for a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant and a $200,000 grant from USDA.
“It’s never easy to get $1.8 million from the legislature, but when you have a group of committed farmers who dug inside their own pockets, that makes a whole lot of difference in Baton Rouge,” Morrish says. “That makes it a much easier project.”
“It took the efforts of a lot of farmers and other people to put this together,” Guinn says. “I think this will be a project we’ll all be proud of 20 years down the road.”
Jeff Davis Parish Police Jury president Donald Woods says the parish was very pleased to get the funding put together so quickly. Jeff Davis Parish Economic Development and Tourist Commission director, Marion Fox, agrees. “It’s unheard of to get $1.8 million in capital investment from the legislature in one session, but we did it,” Fox says. “It was because of the investment from nine parishes.”
Chris Krielow, president of the SLRF, notes that the two miles of rail spurs that already exist at the grain facility will provide access to hundreds of rail cars.
“More trains mean cheaper transportation costs,” he says.
Pousson emphasizes that the facility will be available to whoever the broker buys from, even if it’s not an SLRF member.
“SLRF put up the money to get the project going, but we aren’t blocking out anybody from using the facility,” he says. “We are really open minded about this. Also, one of the structures of the LLC is that there is only one vote per entity, no matter how many shares that entity buys.”
Once a contractor is hired, equipment availability will determine when he can get started.
“It’s about a four- to six-month project,” Pousson says. “At best, we hope to have it up and running at the end of the year.”
Rice Farming editor, Carroll Smith, and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry contributed information to this article.