Finding alternative ways to profit from land

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2002

The LSU AgCenter is helping landowners find alternative ways to profit from their land through a program that capitalizes on natural resources and hopes to revitalize the rural economy of the state.

Extension faculty from the LSU AgCenter recently instituted a new program called the “Natural Resource-Based Enterprise Initiative.”

This program shows landowners alternative ways to get more money out of their land while fostering natural resource conservation – in essence promoting a more diversified economy and the revitalization of rural Louisiana by capitalizing on the state’s sustainable natural resources.

“With the decline in agriculture productivity and urban encroachment, a lot of pressure is being put on rural landowners to find something else to do with their land,” said Steve Hotard, area forester for the LSU AgCenter. “This program is designed to show landowners what they can do with their land to profit from it.”

One alternative use for the land is recreation, Hotard said. Figures supplied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a 1996 survey showed a total of $1.79 billion was put into the state’s economy that year alone for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching.

Louisiana producers are starting to realize just how profitable such ventures can be and that they are viable alternatives to farming.

“I want to retire some day,” said David Paulk, explaining he knew he had to find an alternative to farming after commodity prices began falling and kept falling. “With the way (agricultural) prices look now, I’ll never be able to (retire) unless I find some other way to earn money -and this looks like the way to go.”

Paulk, who owns property in Catahoula and Tensas parishes, has opened 11,000 acres of his land for visitors to use for hunting and fishing.

“We’ve got a good area here for hunters and fishermen to come to,” Paulk said. “I’ve set up deer stands and duck blinds, and all the hunters have to do is go out and wait for the game to come to them.”

Visitors to Paulk’s property also are provided with a place to stay and food to eat as part of the price they pay for their visit. All they have to bring is their guns and ammunition.

Paulk said faculty with the LSU AgCenter have been helpful in getting him on the right track with his relatively new operation.

“Programs like this help a lot,” he said. “The (LSU AgCenter extension) agents have a lot more information at their hands and know a lot more about what needs to be done to get an operation like this off the ground.”

Like Paulk, Wes Newman owns property in the Delta Region of Northeast Louisiana. Newman is converting his property in Catahoula and Concordia parishes into recreational facilities for hunting and fishing.

A retired catfish producer, Newman has Catahoula Parish property that is bordered by the Ouachita River – which makes it an attractive site for those interested in boating, fishing or sightseeing.

“After I retired, I had to find something to do,” Newman said. “So I started doing a little here and there with my property and am turning it into a place where hunters and fishermen can relax.”

Newman planted 450 acres of ponds to rice and has added 36,000 pounds of crawfish to the rice crop. He has also set duck blinds out in the ponds for hunters.

“We have people coming in from all over the United States,” Newman said. “They can come here and hunt while we take care of the rest. We provide a place to stay and food to eat. All they have to do is hunt and fish.”

Newman has a Web site set up at

Steve Hotard, an LSU AgCenter forester in Northeast Louisiana, and David Neal, an LSU AgCenter county agent in Catahoula Parish, said operations such as Paulk’s and Newman’s are vital to the state’s economy. Both operations lure out-of-state tourists, who bring out-of-state money and spend it in Louisiana.

“And this is all new money – money that would not otherwise be spent here,” Hotard said. “We still want producers to farm productive land, but they can put their marginal land into recreational activities and still make money.”

Not only will the hunters bring money to the facility they use, they will also bring money into the whole economy, Neal said.

“The potential for economic development is phenomenal,” Neal said. “People coming in from out of state will need supplies and other essentials which they will buy from our stores. Everyone benefits from this.”

A group of men from North Carolina came to Paulk’s operation in December and spent $600 when they went to Ferriday for supplies. Among them was Ricky Ward, a forester from North Carolina.

“I came here last year and had so much fun, I went back and told these guys,” said Ward, pointing to Jack Meares and Billy Floyd, also of North Carolina.

“Yeah,” Meares said. “We heard about it and decided we’d come this year. We’ve had a great time.”

Floyd said he got to see something he hasn’t seen in all of his 68 years.

“I got to see David (Paulk) call ducks,” Floyd said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. That made the whole trip worthwhile just seeing that.”

The LSU AgCenter is looking to help landowners like Paulk and Newman capitalize on their land with the help of its “Natural Resource-Based Enterprise Initiative.”

“Today’s producers and landowners living in rural communities are being pressed by declining profitability from traditional agricultural operations, urban encroachment, demands for recreational services and access by the expanding population,” Hotard said. “We’re also seeing the rural community economy decline.”

Hotard said such circumstances challenge the traditional quality of rural life and the sustainability of rural communities and the natural resource base.

“This program will help promote and stimulate private landowners and producers to develop and manage natural resource-based enterprises,” Hotard continued. “It will make them aware of the potential impact of natural resource-based enterprises on farm profitability and the economic benefits for rural communities, as well as environmental enhancement.”

The program also will strengthen the collaboration between the agricultural community, natural resource managers and local community economic development leaders through the development and marketing of existing natural and human resources, he said.

As part of these efforts, the LSU AgCenter also is working with the Delta Outdoors and Wildlife Association, which is comprised of businesses, landowners and producers, to develop, promote and market outdoor recreational activities in the Northeast and North Central regions of Louisiana.