Hurricanes marred agriculture production in 2008. In 2009, it was rain — and plenty of it — that created challenges for Louisiana farmers.
Persistent rain during fall harvest season caused significant damage to several crops and brought more financial problems for farmers, according to LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry.
Fields of sweet potatoes, cotton and soybeans did not get harvested because of poor quality.
“When you’re getting rain every other day, it really limits in terms of producers being able to get into the field,” Guidry said. “And in certain cases, that rain every other day was significant rain — 2 to 3 inches.”
Guidry estimates revenue reductions from crop damage will top $360 million, with cotton losing the most at 63 percent of its expected value. Sweet potatoes lost 50 percent of their value, and soybeans lost 33 percent. Losses to rice and sugarcane are below 10 percent.
This makes for another difficult year for sweet potato and cotton growers who were still struggling to recover from 2008 after Hurricane Gustav severely damaged those crops, Guidry said.
“Those producers are not only going to have one year of carry-over debt, but now two years of carry-over debt as they head into 2010,” he said.
The LSU AgCenter economist believes those producers could have a hard time getting loans to begin planting their 2010 crops.
Weather earlier in the year also affected crops. A wet spring delayed planting of some crops. Spring was followed in June by drought-type conditions that hurt corn and grain sorghum yields.
Guidry said commodity prices overall were lower than in 2008 but still were historically strong, especially for grains. Growers did get a break on production costs.
“That was led by fuel prices,” Guidry said. “The average retail price for diesel in the Gulf Coast region in 2008 was $3.75 a gallon. In 2009, it’s about $2.34 a gallon.”
The economist’s projections for 2010 include an increase in cotton and rice acres in the state. An increase in cotton prices could prompt more farmers to return to planting cotton. Acreage has been at record lows in recent years.
The rains that hurt farmers this year may help rice farmers next year. Hurricanes in recent years contaminated some rice fields with salt water.
“Because of all this rain, we may see some of those salt issues mitigated a bit, and we may see some of those acres come back into production in 2010,” Guidry said.
According to Guidry, it is unclear what corn and soybean acreage may look like in 2010, but he suspects the amount of money lenders are willing to lend to farmers may play an important role in what gets planted.
“You can grow 1,000 acres of soybeans for the same price you can grow 300 or 400 acres of cotton,” he said.
Despite two bad years for several commodities, Guidry is optimistic heading into the new year.
“We’re starting to see some commodity prices move up again, and that gives us some hope that 2010 may be a more profitable year for our producers,” he said.
Guidry tempered his optimism with realism, stressing the need for a good production year and cooperation from the weather.