Preliminary estimates show that Hurricane Isaac caused $100 million worth of losses to Louisiana agriculture. It could have been much worse.
“I don’t want to downplay the harm the storm did to people,” says Kurt Guidry, LSU AgCenter economist, who crunched preliminary damage numbers. “For those who were hit, it’s awful. But overall, from a statewide standpoint, we were relatively fortunate given the size of Isaac and the amount of time it took to leave the state. It could have packed a much larger punch.”
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Guidry’s view is backed up when comparing Isaac’s $100 million price tag to major weather events that rocked the state’s agriculture sector in recent years. Katrina and Rita cost Louisiana over $1 billion. Gustav and Ike cost well over $200 million.
The timing of Isaac’s arrival also helped keep damage down. For our some of Louisiana’s major row-crop commodities -- corn, grain sorghum, rice -- “we were fortunate that most were harvested prior to the storm coming through,” says Guidry. “With corn and grain sorghum, we were probably around 90 percent, or more, harvested. So, while we have seen an impact on the acres that remained in the field, the impact across the corn and grain sorghum crops is relatively small.”
For rice, the majority of the acres in south Louisiana were harvested before the storm. Most rice acres that weren’t already in the bin when Isaac’s fury hit were in north Louisiana.
By the time Isaac made it to the northern part of the state “we didn’t see the types of wind and rain that were initially projected. One agent told me around Monroe the wind gusts were around 25 to 30 miles per hour.”
Some 11 percent of the state’s rice yield, representing a loss of $4 million, was affected by Isaac.
For soybeans and cotton, the impacts were greater. In the southern part of the cotton-growing region -- the south-central part of Louisiana -- the storm harmed fields much more. Estimates of yield loss there were between 20 and 30 percent.
“A lot of bolls were knocked onto the ground. As you move north where more cotton acres are, the impact was less significant -- maybe 5 to 10 percent.”
As a result, Louisiana cotton will suffer an estimated $11 million in losses.
In the south of the state, there were significant losses to soybeans, particularly where there was flooding. Some losses were total, although on relatively small acreage.
“Some parishes reported upwards of 50 percent losses on soybeans predominantly being grown on sugarcane fallow ground. In our major soybean-growing areas, the impact was less significant. We’ll monitor the soybean crop closely over the next few weeks.”
Guidry expects Louisiana soybeans will be hit with around $14 million in losses.
Cane, sweet potatoes, protocols
“For Isaac, we’ve also done estimates on sugarcane planting costs. One impact we’re fairly certain of is that producers will have to change some of their planting strategies and practices.”
That changes the cost of physically harvesting and planting the seed cane. It also changes some of the planting ratios in terms of the number acres producers can plant with every acre of seed cane harvested.
Some of the state’s commodities were set to have record, or near-record, yields prior to the storm. Even after Isaac, though, Guidry believes “We’ll still have relatively large crops. Sugarcane, again, was hit hardest –- maybe $60 million in losses.”
Also impacted were Louisiana’s sweet potatoes, mostly grown in the northern part of the state. Wind can impact them but the amount of rain is the chief concern.
“Too much rain can make the crop deteriorate pretty quickly. Fortunately, where most of our sweet potatoes are grown, rain totals were from 2 to 4 inches -- not the 6 to 10 inches originally predicted.”
Sweet potatoes are expected to suffer a five percent reduction in yield and a loss of some $1.6 million.
Most of Louisiana’s citrus acres are in the south with well over half in Plaquemines, Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. Some 40 percent of the citrus crop was harmed by Isaac dropping the crop’s estimated value from $5.5 million to $2.1 million.
“Plaquemines Parish was probably the parish hit hardest by Isaac, particularly with flooding. The initial citrus number will probably go up.”
What is the protocol used by Guidry in preparing damage reports?
“Anytime we try to calculate damages from natural disasters, our initial protocol is to contact all the (LSU AgCenter) commodity specialists. They’re positioned throughout the state and will go out and do a physical assessment of the damage.
“At the same time, we send a survey to every (Extension office) in every parish. They’re asked to provide information on acres impacted, yield impacts, animal losses, number of grazing days lost, and some other things.”
Guidry then gather USDA and NASS data on acreages and yields. That helps with estimated yields and prices prior to the storm.
“We also get information from the Farm Service Agency on certified acreages. That helps ensure our numbers are in line.”
For commodities without USDA data readily available, “we’re fortunate in Louisiana to do our own data collection on crops -- the Louisiana Agriculture Summary publication that is released annually. That data is also put into the mix.”