Louisiana economic assessments of natural disasters were limited to estimating short-term direct economic damage to agricultural commodities, aquaculture, fisheries and agricultural industries. This was mainly because LSU Agricultural Center personnel had the greatest knowledge and expertise in these areas.  

A step towards a strategic set of procedures to evaluate damages was to develop a survey through which information could be collected and organized to be used in developing direct economic impacts. This involved a collaborative effort including all levels of the Cooperative Extension Service.

Once evidence emerged that significant damage had occurred over a large enough geographic area to warrant an economic assessment, an initial standardized survey was sent to parish (county) level agricultural agents and state-level commodity production specialists to get an overview of the physical damage experienced. This survey was typically limited to gathering information regarding yield losses and impacts on major commodities affected by the natural disaster.

To ensure that economic damage assessments reflected a uniform consideration of losses, multi-year impacts were qualitatively identified and discussed but were not included in the economic damage totals. Indirect impact issues were also identified but not included in the economic damage totals provided by the assessment report.

The initial survey sent to parish (county) level and commodity production specialists provided a standardized approach for identifying commodities, acres, and the expected yield impacts. Yield impacts were requested on a percentage basis rather than per bushel or per pound basis. This was done to prevent the potential for over-estimation based on overly optimistic predisaster yield potential. Past experiences suggest that overly optimistic predisaster yield estimates can lead to overestimating yield impacts associated with the disaster.

The information collected from these surveys are combined with published data to develop economic estimates of losses. Where possible, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) yield data is used to develop five year average yields that serve as a proxy for predisaster yields. Likewise, estimates from the World Agricultural Outlook Board’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report are used to establish baselines for commodity market prices used in determining revenue levels. With the number of assumptions that must be made to develop damage estimates within a short time frame and the inherently subjective nature of physical loss assessments, the ability to supplement  assessments with data that is widely recognized and accepted helps to improve the accuracy and credibility of estimates.

Louisiana is fortunate to have an annual publication developed by the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness that provides acreage, yield, and price data by parish (county) for every commercially grown commodity in the state. The Louisiana Summary: Agriculture and Natural Resources is a cooperative effort with parish and state level Extension personnel and has become one of the most frequently used and referenced publications developed by the LSU AgCenter. If available, these types of additional data sources can be used to supplement data from USDA to add accuracy and creditability to damage assessments.

While an initial survey can be accomplished and a damage assessment developed within two to three weeks of the disaster event, there is generally a need for one or multiple subsequent assessments. This is particularly true depending on the time of the year that the natural disaster occurs. Disaster events that occur early in the growing season can prove extremely difficult in assessing yield impacts. With several weeks or months before the commodity is to be harvested, weather conditions that follow the disaster event can have as much or more impact on the final yield. As such, a second assessment is typically conducted at or around harvest time. 

A second survey is sent to parish (county) Extension personnel which requests much more detailed information for all impacted commodities on a wider array of issues. This survey asks for updated estimates for acreage and yield losses and for other information that can be used to develop impacts such as increased production costs and infrastructure losses. Again, this information is combined with USDA data along with other published data such as estimated commodity production costs and returns found in enterprise budgets developed by the LSU AgCenter. Once this information is collected and tabulated, it is sent to commodity production specialists that help to verify and validate the numbers.