Crawfish outlook improving for 2003

BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU AgCenter experts say this year's crawfish crop could be the best Louisiana has seen in several years.

"The crawfish season is a pretty positive picture right now compared to the past several years," LSU AgCenter aquaculture specialist Greg Lutz said, adding, "There are lots of crawfish out in the ponds, and they are nice size."

This is welcome news to mudbug lovers everywhere, since the past several years have not been the best for crawfish production because of less-than-average rainfall and two years of extreme drought.

Lutz attributes the current abundance of crawfish to the near-normal rains last summer and the additional rains from tropical storms and fronts that came through in the fall.

"The summer rains are responsible for keeping the underground burrows damp or saturated, which is necessary for the survival of crawfish during that period," Lutz said. "Sometime in late summer, the females lay their eggs while still in the burrows, and then a few weeks later they emerge from the burrows with the newly hatched young."

Louisiana's crawfish industry relies heavily on farm-raised crawfish, which often are raised in conjunction with a rice crop. Some wild crawfish are harvested — mainly from the Atchafalya Basin.

Lutz said the Louisiana industry has expanded over the past couple of years — or at least bounced back.

"We've seen the industry really bounce back to the amount of acres we had before those two drought years a few years ago," Lutz explained.

Mark Shirley, an area aquaculture agent with the LSU AgCenter, recently held educational meetings for those who were interested in getting into the business. The seminars, held in Crowley and Ville Platte, focused on providing production information to farmers and landowners who wanted to know more about growing crawfish.

"There is more to raising crawfish than flooding a field and running the traps," Shirley said. "Farmers have control over some aspects of production — such as levees, water supply, forage and, of course, stocking.

"If things are done right, they greatly improve your chances of producing a good crop, but there is no guarantee," Shirley said. "Weather and other factors can either boost or reduce production."

Shirley is conducting the meetings now so farmers interested in moving into the crawfish business can prepare the land and be ready to stock new ponds in early May. "If you miss that window of opportunity to stock crawfish, it could delay or severely reduce your crop next year," he explained.

As for prices, Lutz said the answer to that question is typical of any agricultural crop.

"Prices are like going to the casino — you can have an idea of what's going to happen and be fooled," Lutz explained. "The only thing we can be sure of is that crawfish will be more affordable for the average consumer than they have been for the past couple of seasons."

With the tremendous economic pressure rice farmers have been under for the past few years, experts say a lot of them are looking to crawfish as a way to supplement income off their land.

During 2001, the latest year for which complete figures are available, nearly 1,000 producers raised 27.7 million pounds of crawfish on farms in the state, according to the LSU AgCenter's Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. In addition, another nearly 6.5 million pounds were harvested from the wild. Together, those made for an economic impact of $42.3 million in farm income alone.

e-mail: Johnny Morgan

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