Louisiana farmers have lost more than $225 million in crops as a result of the unusual rains this season, according to economists with the LSU AgCenter.
Worse yet, those losses come on top of another $32 million in damage to various other crops caused by Tropical Storm Allison in early June.
Among the hardest-hit crops from the fall rains were cotton, soybeans, sweet potatoes and grain sorghum — with cotton leading that pack with nearly $160 million in losses.
“These are tough times for many of our agricultural producers,” said LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson. “Crop prices and weather conditions have not been on their side the past few years.”
Droughts in 1998 and 2000 were devastating for many of the state's crops, and too much rain at the wrong times has been the problem in 2001.
“The estimated losses we are seeing from too much rain this year are not quite as bad as the drought losses we estimated in 1998 and 2000, but they are still significant,” LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said. He explained this year's estimates of losses caused by rains looked at only four crops, while the drought damage estimates looked at more crops that were affected and pegged damages at $356 million and $571 million for those years.
“Because prices are as they are — the lowest we've seen in recent history — producers really needed to have better-than-average crops,” Guidry said, adding, “But what's actually happening is what we saw in the droughts where we had low commodity prices and producers with less to sell because of the crop damage.”
Guidry and fellow LSU AgCenter economists Gene Johnson and Lynda Shoalmire obtained information from AgCenter county agents across Louisiana in early to mid-October and used that data to calculate the estimates of crop losses and damages. They looked at such factors as complete losses of crops that were not harvested, partial losses from lower yields caused by the weather-related damage and reductions in the quality of the crops.
“No one will know for sure exactly what the losses will be until all the crops are harvested and the final figures are in,” Guidry said. “But we can be sure the losses will be significant.”
The current estimates for losses in cotton stand at more than $159.5 million. Soybean losses are pegged at $44.8 million, while the estimated sweet potato loss is $10.9 million and the grain sorghum loss is $9.8 million.
Earlier in the year, after Tropical Storm Allison caused damage primarily in the southern portion of the state, LSU AgCenter economists had pegged total damage at $39.8 million for crops including corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, wheat, sweet potatoes, vegetables, hay, pastures and sugarcane. Sugarcane was the hardest hit at that time — with an estimate of $24.6 million in damage.
Among the hardest hit areas from the fall rains was West Carroll Parish, where damage to cotton was estimated at more than $43 million, sweet potato losses at $4.5 million and combined soybean and grain sorghum losses approaching $1 million.
While West Carroll led other parishes with the largest estimates of damage to cotton and sweet potatoes, Pointe Coupee Parish posted nearly $18.2 million in soybean losses, and Catahoula Parish reported $3.4 million in grain sorghum damage.
Rounding out the top three damage estimates for each crop affected by the fall rains were $21.6 million in cotton losses in Morehouse Parish; $15.7 million in cotton losses in Tensas; $7.2 million in soybean losses in St. Landry; $3.5 million in soybean losses in Catahoula; $3.2 million in grain sorghum losses in Concordia Parish; $2.3 million in sweet potato losses in St. Landry; $2.2 million in sweet potato losses in Avoyelles; and $1.6 million in grain sorghum losses in Madison Parish.
“These are trying times for agriculture and forestry. We have farmers who are working their hardest to provide safe, affordable food and fiber for the nation, but after four years of alternating between drought and heavy rainfall, they can't cash flow doing it,” Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom said in response to the latest crop damage estimates.
“Tropical Storm Allison pounded our fields in early summer, bringing tremendous losses in some areas only to give way to fall rains that hurt us even more,” Odom said. “The limited help we've gotten from the federal government will only scratch the surface of what our producers need to stay in business.”
Guidry said such assistance is critical for some producers. “For those producers already under considerable financial stress from the drought and low commodity prices of the past three years, another year of low prices and lower-than-expected production may make the difference in their ability to stay in business or not,” Guidry said, adding, “What has kept some of them in business to this point has been the additional governmental support provided as a result of the drought and low commodity prices.
“So unless we get some sort of commitment on government payments this year, some of them probably won't make it,” Guidry said, explaining such support generally comes in the form of direct government payments to producers, various forms of disaster payments or low-interest loans.
According to figures from the LSU AgCenter, cotton meant more than $258 million to the state's economy in 2000, while sweet potatoes contributed more than $99 million, soybeans nearly $96 million and feed grain crops (including grain sorghum) netted nearly $122 million.
“Agriculture is a critical part of our state's economy,” Richardson said, pointing out that agriculture and related industries meant more than $8 billion to Louisiana last year. “We in the LSU AgCenter will continue to do what we can in our agricultural research and Extension programs to support those vital industries.”