BATON ROUGE, La. – For the second year in a row, Louisiana farmers had record-breaking values for many of their commodities, which led to a new high value of $11.8 billion for the agriculture sector of the Louisiana economy in 2013 – up 3.8 percent from 2012.
“Records broke records for the second year in a row, which is very unusual in agriculture,” said John Westra, the LSU AgCenter economist in charge of the Ag Summary, which is a compilation of the numbers from the more than 200 agricultural commodities grown and raised across the state.
The AgCenter prepares the Ag Summary annually – and has since 1979 – to gauge the status of the agricultural economy, which is second only to the petrochemical industry in value in the state, Westra said.
The main contributing factor to record yields for the second year in a row for corn, grain sorghum, soybeans and sweet potatoes and record yields for cotton and rice was good weather.
“We had ideal conditions during the fruiting or growing season for these crops,” Westra said, adding that harvest season went smoothly for the most part as well.
Not only did temperatures stay out of extreme ranges, but there were no hurricanes or major problems with disease or pests.
Although cotton and sweet potatoes had record average yields – 1,221 pounds per acre for cotton and 481 bushels per acre for sweet potatoes – they had record low acreages, Westra said. Cotton was harvested on 124,000 acres, down 101,000 acres from 2012, and sweet potatoes were harvested on only 7,300 acres, down 2,400 acres from 2012.
The acreage for cotton has been steadily going down as farmers have switched to the higher-paying crops of corn and soybeans. This year, 2014, however, some of the corn farmers may switch back to cotton because the cool spring temperatures are preventing them from getting corn planted by about mid-April for the crop to be profitable in Louisiana, Westra said.
Even with high yields, the low cotton acreage resulted in a drop of 33 percent in cotton’s value from 2012 to 2013 – $278 million to $185 million.
The total value of sweet potatoes went up nearly 8 percent – from $80 million to $86 million. Sweet potatoes are more of a high-risk crop in Louisiana because their harvest coincides with prime time for hurricanes in September and October, during which heavy rains can rot the underground crop before farmers can harvest it.
With record high prices for soybeans the past few years, farmers have turned over some sweet potato land to soybeans.
Soybean prices continue to be good, and combined with a record average yield of 49 bushels per acre in Louisiana, the total value in 2013 was $909 million, up 13 percent from 2012.
Corn has a similar story. The good prices combined with a record average yield of 186 bushels per acre in Louisiana led to a total value in 2013 for feed grains – mostly corn – of $930 million, which was up 17.1 percent from 2012. Feed grains also include grain sorghum and oats.
The big winner among crops was rice, which increased in value nearly 37 percent from 2012 to 2013 to $659 million. Rice farmers had record-high yields of an average 76 hundredweight per acre amid strong prices for rice. In 2012, rice farmers had problems with bad weather and disease, Westra said.
Still among the top five commodities for 2013 at $771 million, sugarcane dropped in value by 23 percent from 2012.
“The production was high, but the sugar prices were low,” Westra said.
Louisiana’s cattle industry did well with a value of $663 million in 2013 – up 18 percent over 2012.
“The drought and bad weather in other parts of the country helped keep prices high,” Westra said. “Also, demand for meat products is going up as the economy improves.”
Poultry, Louisiana’s largest animal industry, also did well with a record high of $2 billion in 2013 – up 6 percent over 2012.
Although Louisiana’s dairy industry continued to lose farms and cows, its value went up more than 11 percent over 2012 to $132 million. Westra said the number of producers went down from 135 in 2012 to 125 in 2013, and the number of cows went down from 16,000 to 15,000 in 2013.
The price for dairy products was up nationally for all milk classes, fueled in part by strong export demand for U.S. dairy products, Westra said.
“This translated into higher prices and revenues for dairy producers in Louisiana, despite lower cow numbers and production,” Westra said.
In total, the animal and livestock commodities reached a record high for the second year in a row with a value of $3.3 billion.
Fisheries and wildlife commodities also reached a record high for the second year in a row at $1.13 billion. The biggest share of that was marine fisheries at $537 million – up nearly 3 percent.
Next was the aquaculture industry, which includes farm-raised crawfish and alligators. It was valued at $444 million in 2013 – up 3 percent from 2012.
Forestry, Louisiana’s biggest plant crop, improved slightly over 2012 at $2.88 billion, up 1.3 percent.
“This is because of the improving housing market,” Westra said.
Louisiana’s forestry industry has two sectors – the lumber market, which largely depends on the housing market, and the paper products industry.
“It’s unlikely we’ll break records in 2014,” Westra said of Louisiana agriculture. “Soybean and corn prices keep going down. And the cold weather we’ve been experiencing may have some effect.”
The Ag Summary statistics are compiled parish-by-parish by AgCenter extension agents and specialists. The total values reflect the value received by the farmer (farm gate) and the value when the commodity is sold at the next step in the process, which is called value-added.