Acadiana Business

Ag economy hits record $11.4 billion in 2012

by Walter Pierce

That's about 6.5 percent more than the 2011 total of $10.7 billion and $500 million above the previous record, set in 2007.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The LSU AgCenter says high prices and record yields for corn and soybeans drove Louisiana's agricultural economy to a record high of $11.4 billion last year. That's about 6.5 percent more than the 2011 total of $10.7 billion and $500 million above the previous record, set in 2007.

Sugarcane brought in the highest dollar amount, $993 million, with near-record yields helping to reduce the effect of lower prices that pushed the total down 8 percent from 2011, AgCenter economist John Westra said Monday. It was the only row crop with a higher dollar value than corn and soybeans, he said.

Sugar recovery was the highest on record, at 8,412 pounds of sugar per acre.

Soybeans covered the most land last year - 1.1 million acres. They brought in $805 million, 53 percent higher than in 2011. "That's an astounding increase," Westra said in a news release. The high acreage was coupled with a record average yield of 45 bushels an acre and a record price $14 a bushel, he said.

Westra said 2013 should be another good year for Louisiana farmers, especially those growing soybeans and corn. Those prices are expected to remain high, although not as high as in 2012.

Ag Summary values include not only the amount paid to farmers but the value added by the first level of activity, which includes cleaning, grading, transporting and any processing in Louisiana.

The value for feed grains, mostly corn, increased 31 percent over 2011 to $794 million. The statewide average yield for corn was 169 bushels per acre, another record.

"There's no doubt that we benefited from drought conditions in other parts of the country," Westra said.

Grain sorghum also had record yields in 2011; oat acreage fell.

Steady prices for cotton, combined with record low acreage, cut its total value 9 percent from 2011, to $278 million.

Cotton farmers are switching to soybeans and corn, where they can make more money, Westra said.

Land harvested for cotton was about 225,000 acres, down 22 percent from 2011 and the lowest recorded since 1866, when the state began tracking production. "We expect to be down another 50,000 acres in 2013," Westra said.

The steepest one-year decline in value was sweet potatoes, down 44 percent to $80 million in 2012. The yield was good but acreage plunged from 13,360 in 2011 to 9,730 in 2012, partly because at least half a dozen farmers retired and partly because banks don't want to lend money for sweet potato production, Westra said.

"Sweet potatoes can be very profitable, but they are a high-risk commodity," he said. Production is labor-intensive and therefore expensive, and heavy rains at harvest can easily ruin a crop.

Banks also appear to be less willing to loan money for rice production, which also is expensive. Westra said that is one of the reasons acreage dropped from 417,000 to 391,000 acres.

However, prices were good and yields set a record, bringing its value to $483 million, slightly higher than in 2011.

Forestry remains the biggest segment of the agriculture economy at $2.8 billion, down 5 percent from last year's $3 billion.

A slight rise in the housing industry bumped saw timber prices up. But pulpwood for paper products and chip and saw production, which goes into wood products like plywood, were both down, Westra said.

Animal enterprises were up 15 percent, from $2.6 billion to $3 billion. Most of that was in poultry, up 21 percent to $1.9 billion.

Higher prices for beef cattle boosted that business - mostly cow-calf operations selling weanling calves to feedlots - from $448 million in 2011 to $561 million in 2012, but the state's dairy business continued to shrink.

Five dairy farmers dropped out, cutting the total to 135. Their contribution to Louisiana's economy $118 million in 2012, was down 12 percent from 2011. "The high prices for feed and fertilizer are the main contributors to the decline," Westra said.

Fisheries rose 40 percent. However, those figures lag a year. So that's a rise from 2010, when the Gulf of Mexico oil spill closed many fisheries for much of the year, to 2011.

A 22 percent drop in farm-raised crawfish production cut aquaculture - which also includes catfish, alligators, oysters and turtles - from $442 million in 2011 to $431 million last year.

"This drop in production stemmed from extremely dry preseason conditions and cold winter temperatures," Westra said.