In a mid-November estimate, AgCenter economists said the state’s sugarcane farmers have lost half the value of their harvest – up to $338 million – due to the damage from Isidore and Lili, the tropical storm and hurricane that hit the state earlier this fall.

“My prediction in early October of crop losses in the $300 million to $500 million range may be too conservative,” Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom said. “The rains keep coming, farmers can’t get in the fields with their machinery and what’s left to harvest is in bad shape.”

After the passage of Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili, Odom had predicted as much as a $500 million loss to Louisiana farmers.

Since then, however, the rains have scarcely let up and the damage has continued to mount.

Odom said that at $338 million in losses from a pre-harvest estimated value of $687 million, the value of Louisiana’s 2002 sugarcane harvest has fallen by half.

“Sugarcane fields are a quagmire,” he said. “Mangled and matted cane stalks are difficult to pick up and cut. The harvested stalks are covered in mud. Muddy stalks at the mills are causing equipment problems as well as sugar extraction and quality problems.”

So far, damage estimates from AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry are that $52 million in cotton and $41 million in soybeans have been lost. In addition, losses are set at $9 million for second crop rice, $9.2 million for sweet potatoes and $2.7 million for hay and forage.

“Only two-thirds of cotton and soybeans have been harvested. Normally this time of year both crops are near 100 percent harvested,” Odom said. “Just before Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili struck over a month ago, about 60 percent of the cotton had been harvested. A month later the figure has increased only a few percentage points.

“In the last few days the weather has cleared, permitting dawn to dark harvesting in the cotton areas. But with field conditions and crop quality so poor, the equipment is getting torn up and the cotton quality will mean a severe price discount,” Odom said.

An added burden to the cotton industry is the lack of quality seed from the harvested cotton. Normally, cotton gins receive the cottonseed as payment for their ginning costs.

“I can see the current relatively modest loss figures for cotton and soybeans climbing substantially when final figures are tallied,” Odom said, adding that cotton is normally a $300 million to $400 million crop and soybeans usually generate about $125 million in economic impact each year.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com