Louisiana agriculture sets record in 2013

The value of the Louisiana agricultural economy set a record for the second year in a row, thanks to record yields and high prices for many key crops.

Agriculture pumped $11.8 billion into the Louisiana economy during 2013, said John Westra, an economist with the LSU AgCenter.

That’s a $432 million increase over the old record of $11.4 billion, set in 2012.

Westra unveiled his Ag Summary, a compilation of the numbers from more than 200 agricultural commodities grown and raised across the state, at a speech before the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday.

The year “2013 was a record year for records in terms of acreage harvested, crop yields, total production and total value,” Westra said.

Crops setting records last year for yields per acre harvested included soybeans, corn, rice, cotton, grain sorghum and sweet potatoes.

It’s unlikely the Louisiana agricultural economy will set records for a third consecutive year. Soybean and corn prices are going down, which may reduce the number of acres planted. The cool, wet weather that has hit Louisiana also could have an impact.

“The long term-forecast for prices is that they’re going to be down for soybeans $2 to $3 per bushel and corn at $1 to $1.50 per bushel,” Westra said.

“Unless something drastic happens and there’s significant shortages of those commodities, I don’t think there will be another record total yield and a record total value.”

Roughly two-thirds of the commodities produced last year in the state increased in value, going up by $796 million over 2012.

The biggest gainer was rice, which saw its total value go up by 37 percent to $659 million. Along with record yields and strong rice prices, Westra said 2013 was a better year for farmers. In 2012, rice farmers had problems with bad weather and disease.

The value of feed grains, which includes corn, grain sorghum and oats, was up 17 percent in 2013 to $659 million.

Louisiana farmers benefited from the drought in the southern plains of the U.S., which tightened supplies and led to higher than normal prices.

“Acreage was up for feed grains; yields were at record levels and grain prices were high,” Westra said.

The drought across parts of the country also helped the Louisiana cattle industry. The value of beef cattle and calves was up 18 percent to $663 million.

“The number of beef animals sold, bought and raised remained relatively constant in Louisiana compared to 2012,” Westra said. “The prices they received relative to 2012 increased by 20 to 40 percent or more.”

The tight supply of cattle is expected to last nationally through 2015 because of drought conditions and a harsh winter that cut hay stocks.

The other one-third of commodities saw their value decrease by $364 million from the previous year.

Most of the decline was caused by drops in value for cotton, which plunged 33 percent from $278 million to $185 million, and sugarcane, which was down 23 percent from $993 million to $771 million.

Cotton acreage in Louisiana dropped by 101,000 acres to 124,000 in 2013. That’s the lowest level on record for the state, Westra said, going back to 1866.

At the same time acreage was plunging, the price for cotton went down.

The reason for the drastic drop in acreage was due to higher prices and profitability for substitute cotton crops, such as corn, soybeans and grain sorghum. “It was more profitable to grow those crops than cotton, so farmers were encouraged to use substitutes,” he said.

The sugar-cane industry suffered from low sugar prices, despite production remaining high, Westra said.

The dollars in the Ag Summary reflect the gross farm value of each commodity and value added by the first level of activity, which includes cleaning, grading, transporting and the processing that occurs in Louisiana.

Restaurant activity is not figured in, Westra said.

The overall impact of the agricultural industry, which includes the food service sector, all of the processing of agricultural products and the wages paid to people working in the food and fiber sector, is estimated at more than $30 billion.