Holiday Foods More Than Good Eatin; States Economy Benefits

Thomas A. Merrill  |  12/16/2006 3:21:03 AM

Sweet potatoes are more than a treat. They're also a crop that supports a $92 million industry in Louisiana.

News Release Distributed 12/15/06

The foods many people enjoy this time of year are much more than just good eatin’ for the holidays. They’re a part of a vast economic sector that contributes to Louisiana’s economy.

From rice dressing to sweet potatoes and poultry to pecan pies, the treats you enjoy from Thanksgiving through New Year’s are part of a food and fiber sector that means billions to the state’s economy.

Of course, the economic impact of holiday favorites doesn’t stop with food. Christmas trees, poinsettias and other holiday plants also are part of the vast network of agricultural products and natural resources that meant nearly $10 billion to Louisiana’s economy in 2005 – the latest year for which figures are available.

"Agriculture produces the food and fiber commodities that are essential elements for life, and it is a major contributor to the state’s economy," LSU AgCenter Chancellor William B. "Bill" Richardson points out. "Many communities depend on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and wildlife for their livelihood and for local jobs.

"We in the LSU AgCenter are proud to conduct the research and extension educational programs that contribute to increasing agricultural productivity and continued contributions to our economy."

The production and processing of agricultural commodities meant more than $9.7 billion to the Louisiana’s economy in 2005, according to LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. That came despite heavy losses brought on by last year’s hurricanes and other weather-related disasters.

A significant part of that economic impact comes from the contributions of such favorite foods for the holidays and all year long as sweet potatoes, oysters, pecans, citrus, pumpkins, poultry, sweet corn and other vegetables – not to mention the ever-popular ingredients sugar and rice, which play a part in a lot of our dishes.

For example, poultry is one of the leading segments in Louisiana’s agricultural industries, as well as a staple in many holiday dinners. The production and processing of poultry in Louisiana made a total contribution of more than $1.3 billion to the state’s economy in 2005.

More than 900 million pounds of broilers were produced in Louisiana during 2005, and the income generated by poultry and egg production makes it the state’s largest animal enterprise. Poultry was produced in 24 Louisiana parishes last year – with Union Parish leading the way as the top-producing parish.

Of course, poultry isn’t alone in playing a part in the state’s economy or in making delicious contributions to meals all year long. Among the holiday favorites and their economic contributions are:

–Sweet potatoes. About 17,225 acres of sweet potatoes were planted in Louisiana in 2005 – an increase of more than 2,000 acres over 2004. The state’s sweet potato farmers, led by those in Franklin, West Carroll and Avoyelles parishes, produced nearly 5.3 million bushels last year with an on-farm value of more than $53 million. Coupled with processing of the products in Louisiana, the total economic contribution of the sweet potato industry rose to more than $92 million last year.

–Oysters. Louisiana oyster producers harvested nearly 2 million sacks of this delicacy in 2004, the latest year for which the LSU AgCenter reported figures. Those oysters posted a value of more than $32 million before any further processing or sales in the state.

–Pecans. These nuts are known more for their role in pies and other holiday treats, but pecans also play a part in Louisiana's economy. Although hurricanes, drought and insect problems led to significant decreases in the value of the 2005 pecan crop, 4.7 million pounds were produced in the state last year, and they posted a total economic value of more than $6.6 million.

–Pumpkins. Although they may be better known as ingredients in pies or decorations such as jack-o’-lanterns, pumpkins also make an economic contribution to Louisiana. The statewide production of fresh pumpkins in Louisiana last year was nearly 12,000 hundred-weight, worth just under $292,000 at the farm gate.

–Sweet Corn, Other Vegetables. Sweet corn was produced by about 250 growers across the state, who turned out nearly 5 million ears of corn worth more than $1.4 million as it left the farm last year. But the vegetables don’t stop with corn. A host of other vegetables grown in the state that may be on your table this year, and the Louisiana commercial vegetable industry involves 3,000 growers in 52 parishes who produce more than 30 different vegetable crops, including tomatoes, watermelons, southern peas, bell peppers, okra, mustard greens, onions, cucumbers, eggplants and cabbages. Those vegetables posted a gross farm value of nearly $48 million and a total economic contribution of nearly $119 million last year.

–Citrus. Louisiana citrus, which includes popular satsumas and navel oranges, also took a hit from last year’s hurricanes, since 80 percent of its acreage in Plaquemines Parish was damaged. Yet, the industry still posted $4.5 million in farm value for the crops harvested in the 15 Louisiana parishes where citrus was grown in 2005.

–Sugarcane. Much of the sugar you use in various holiday treats may have been grown right here in Louisiana. Sugarcane was grown on nearly 448,000 acres in 24 Louisiana parishes last year. It posted a gross farm value of nearly $293 million and contributions from further processing of nearly $187 million – for a total economic boost of nearly $480 million in 2004.

–Rice. For those who prefer rice dressing or those who make casseroles and side dishes with this Louisiana favorite, rice also is an important element in holiday meals. Even more, it's an important element in the state's economy, with nearly 1,400 producers harvesting more than 3.2 billion pounds of rice worth more than $225 million at the farm gate last year. Coupled with the $68 million from further processing in the state, that means rice contributed approximately $293 million to Louisiana’s economy in 2005

–Christmas trees. Although fiber production for lumber, paper, furniture and so forth makes up the larger part of the forest products industries in the state, which is the leading agricultural industry with a more than $4.5 billion economic contribution, growing Christmas trees is a smaller segment of the industry. Louisiana growers in 30 parishes produced more than 24,000 Christmas trees worth about $1 million in 2005.

–Holiday plants. Plants such as holiday poinsettias are just one part of a larger nursery crop industry in the state. Floriculture and bedding plants contribute $35 million to the overall industry, which was worth nearly $166 million to the state last year.

–Dairy products. It may not seem to be as big a player in holiday festivities, but the milk that contributes to products like eggnog and cheese is part of a Louisiana dairy industry that contributed nearly $198 million to the state’s economy in 2005. Although milk production was reported by 18 parishes last year, the bulk of the industry is located in Tangipahoa, Washington, St. Helena and DeSoto parishes.

The production of crops ranging from cotton and soybeans to rice and sugarcane, known as agronomic agriculture, is found mainly in northeastern and southwestern Louisiana. Forestry production is mostly in the hill parishes, and the fisheries production takes place mostly along the coast, although the aquaculture production of catfish is located mainly in the northeast Louisiana Delta.

"Although agriculture is a business, it’s also much more to those who work in it day-in and day-out. For them, it is a way of life," Richardson said. "It not only employs people, it feeds them, clothes them and puts roofs over their heads. It’s a necessity for all of us – not just the thousands for whom it provides a livelihood."

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Contact: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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