Kurt Guidry, Gould, Frances I.
This publication tabulates the value of Louisiana agriculture in 2018. Agents and specialists of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, as well as other agencies — both private and public — compiled the data. Their analyses focus on the animal, forestry, fisheries, plant and wildlife commodities that constitute our vital agricultural industry. Agricultural and natural resource industries contribute significantly to our state’s economy with the potential for increased economic benefits and job creation through value-added processing in urban and rural communities throughout Louisiana.
As has been a reoccurring theme over the last several years, the 2018 growing and harvest seasons had periods of favorable conditions and extended periods of extremely unfavorable conditions. For the most part, the 2018 planting season began favorably with adequate soil moisture, which helped move planting along at a brisk pace for many commodities. However, cooler than normal temperatures in March and much of April were noted as hampering crop development. Then, what seemed like an immediate switch, conditions turned very hot and dry. Despite the extremes in weather for much of the spring, the overall condition of most crops was excellent heading into the middle of summer. At that time, however, dry and hot conditions quickly changed as persistent rainfall began in later summer and continued through much of the fall. Those persistent rains affected harvest efficiency and crop quality for many commodities, particularly in the southern portion of the state.
Despite the challenging weather conditions in 2018, yields for nearly all the major row crop commodities where higher than the previous year. Total cotton lint yields were up over 20% from the previous year, rice yields were up 5.4%, grain sorghum yields were up 3.9%, and sugar yields were up 3.6% from 2017, a record high. Wheat yields were also significantly higher in 2018 after three consecutive years of lower than normal yields caused by adverse weather conditions and heightened disease pressure. Corn was the only major commodity that did not experience a yield increase as yield estimates for 2018 were down roughly 1.2% from the previous year. Even while down in 2018, corn yields remained above the five-year average. Yield per harvested acre was also up for soybeans and sweet potatoes. The soybean yield per harvested acre was up 4.1%, and sweet potatoes were up by nearly 16%. However, for both commodities, the number of acres that were abandoned and left unharvested were higher than normal because of persistent rains in late summer and fall that severely impacted quality. For sweet potatoes, normally about 1% to 2% of the planted acres are not harvested. In 2018, roughly 4% of the planted acres were not harvested. The situation was even more critical for soybeans. Normally, 2% to 3% of the planted acres are not harvested. In 2018, however, more than 11% of the acres were left unharvested. This 11% amounted to nearly 148,000 acres left unharvested, mostly in the southern part of the state. While the impact to soybeans was not widespread throughout the state, many of the producers affected in the southern part of the state were unable to harvest the majority of their soybean crop. For others, even in cases where they harvested soybeans, they could not find a market for them because of excessive grain damage. Finally, even for those commodities that had minimal yield and quality impacts, harvesting under wet conditions severely increased harvest costs and impacted harvest efficiency. This was particularly true in the case of sugarcane, where persistent and heavy rains caused significant harvest issues throughout most of the harvest season.
The persistent rain through much of the late summer and fall also was believed to have impacts on livestock operations and many fruit and vegetable operations. While the ample rainfall likely helped create ample grazing for livestock producers, it also likely limited hay production and quality. Hay yields were over 12% lower than the previous year. Several reports of missed or delayed hay cuttings because of rains likely not only impacted total yield but also hay quality. Several of the fruit and vegetable crops also experienced reduced yields in 2018, which were likely at least partially because of unfavorable weather conditions.
While commodity prices for most major row crop commodities remain at discounted levels from those seen in the mid-2010s, they did rebound marginally in 2018. Prices for cotton, corn, grain sorghum, rice and wheat were all marginally higher in 2018. Sugarcane and sweet potato prices were mostly unchanged from the previous year. Soybeans were the only major commodity that experienced a decrease in prices in 2018 from the previous year. This is primarily a function of high supply and reduced demand resulting from trade disagreements between the U.S. and China. Also likely impacting the price for soybeans was the high level of quality damage experienced in the state, resulting in significant price discounts for much of the soybeans sold.
Prices in the 2018 for the livestock sector were mixed. Prices for steer and heifer calves were higher in 2018 as increased demand continued to support the market despite growing cattle and beef supplies. Prices for replacement and cull beef cattle were moderately lower in 2018 as the market continued to make adjustments in response to overall lower profitability in the cattle market over the last couple of years. Prices for all classes of swine here estimated higher in 2018 as improved demand and better overall market fundamentals helped to support that market. Likewise, prices for all classes of poultry saw improvement in prices as supply and demand fundamentals continue to improve for this sector. Prices for the sheep and goat industries were mostly steady to slightly lower from the previous year. Finally, milk and dairy cattle prices continued to struggle in 2018. Unfavorable supply and demand fundamentals continue to pressure milk prices and the overall strain on profitability continues to impact dairy cattle prices.
Prices for the fisheries and wildlife enterprises were mostly higher in 2018. Prices for both farm-raised and wild-caught crawfish were higher than the previous year despite continued growth in overall production totals. Continued market expansion for this commodity has helped offset the impact of growing production and supplies. Farm-raised alligators experienced price improvement in 2018 as stronger demand helped to support this market. However, the continued growth in farm-raised alligator production has likely reduced the market potential for wild-caught alligators and helped pressure prices down by 4% from the previous year. Most of the price increases experienced in the freshwater and marine fisheries were modest ranging from 1% to 2% over the previous year. Oysters did experience an 11% increase over the previous year as lower overall supplies and consistent demand helped push prices higher. Finally, honey prices continued to increase in 2018, up over 4% from the previous year. Increased interest in honey production and demand continues to provide strong fundamentals for this sector.
As is the case in most years, there are some commodities in 2018 that performed well both from a production and price standpoint and other commodities that faced significant challenges. This resulted in total gross farm values for different commodities and different commodity groups to vary significantly. Total gross farm value across all plant enterprises was down marginally (1.7%) from the previous year. While higher yields and prices pushed the gross farm value for many of the state’s major row crop commodities higher, reductions for forestry and many other smaller plant enterprises more than offset these increases. The forestry sector saw significant reductions in total gross farm value as market dynamics altered demand schedules for different wood products, impacting both mill and stumpage values. Similarly, gross farm value across all fisheries and wildlife enterprises were down by roughly 3% from the previous year. Despite improvement in prices for most commodities, lower overall production compared to the previous year resulted in lower gross farm values for many fisheries commodities. The total gross farm value across all livestock enterprises was the only group that saw increases from the previous year. Stronger prices for beef cattle, poultry and swine led the way for a nearly 6% increase in gross farm value across all livestock enterprises. The increase in value of the livestock enterprises offset the reductions in plant and fisheries enterprises to leave the total gross farm value across the entire Louisiana food and fiber sector mostly unchanged from the previous year.
When the commodities produced by agricultural producers are cleaned, processed and packaged at the next stages of the marketing channel, these value-added activities create additional economic activity over and above that defined by the gross farm value. In 2018, these value-added activities were estimated to have an additional economic impact of $5.3 billion. Taken together, the gross farm value and value-added activities were estimated to have a total economic impact of nearly $11.7 billion. This represents less than a 1% decrease from 2017. Given the level of economic activity that the state’s agriculture, forestry and fishery industries continue to generate each year, it is undeniable that they continue to be major contributors to the overall state economy. Cutting-edge research programs and extension education and outreach efforts of the LSU AgCenter remain critical to sustaining these economic benefits.
Many Louisiana communities depend on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and wildlife for local jobs and their economic well-being. However, for those who work in it day in and day out, agriculture, forestry and fisheries are far more than a business, a major job contributor and an economic engine. It truly is a way of life. Families have lived on many of these farms, forest lands or fishing villages for generations following a preferred way of life even though it means hard work, many hours, high risks and sometimes low incomes.
Each new production season has risks associated with commodity prices, trade agreements and higher input costs as well as uncertainty related to the weather. These conditions make the discovery and adoption of new agricultural technology developed by the LSU AgCenter more important than ever to our state’s producers. Agriculture is a highly sophisticated segment of the national and world economy, becoming increasingly so every year. That is the reason we at the LSU AgCenter continue to support agriculture and consumers with factual information provided by a well-trained faculty of extension agents, specialists and research scientists.
Those of us in the LSU AgCenter, with its major branches, the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service and the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, are proud to be part of the Louisiana agricultural industry, and we are committed to serving that industry and the citizens across the state of Louisiana in the years ahead.
William B. Richardson, LSU Vice President for Agriculture
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