Holiday Foods Mean More Than Good Eating; States Economy Benefits

Thomas A. Merrill, Bollich, Patricia A., Braud, Emily  |  10/4/2004 4:27:08 AM

You may just think of them as delicious treats, but some of Louisiana’s traditional favorites for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners also contribute handily to the state’s economy.

Agricultural products and natural resources contribute billions of dollars to Louisiana's economy all year round, according to figures from the LSU AgCenter. And a healthy chunk of that economic impact comes from the contributions of such favorite holiday foods as sweet potatoes, oysters, pecans, citrus, pumpkins, poultry, sweet corn and other vegetables – not to mention the ever-popular ingredients of sugar and rice, which also contribute to some of our dishes.

"Agriculture in Louisiana is big business, and it continues to be a major contributor to the state’s economy," LSU AgCenter Chancellor William B. "Bill" Richardson said. "And, of course, production of the food and fiber we need is a critical part of the business of agriculture."

Although adverse weather resulted in more than $500 million in lost production for such crops as sugarcane, cotton, sweet potatoes, rice and soybeans, the production and processing of agricultural commodities meant more than $7.5 billion to the state's economy in 2002, according to LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Better yet, experts report many of those crops are rebounding and having much better yields this year.

Poultry is one of the leading segments in Louisiana’s agricultural industries, as well as a leader in many holiday dinners. The production and processing of poultry in Louisiana made a total contribution of more than $605 million last year.

Almost 1 billion pounds of broilers were produced in Louisiana during 2002 – with commercial broiler production occurring Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson, Lincoln, Livingston, Natchitoches, Ouachita, Sabine, Union, Vernon, Webster and Winn parishes.

Of course, other agricultural crops that form parts of our holiday dinners also make contributions to the state's economy. Among those are:

–Sweet potatoes. The state's farmers – led by those in parishes like West Carroll and Avoyelles – produced nearly 5 million bushels of sweet potatoes with an on-farm value of more than $46 million in 2002. Coupled with processing of the products in Louisiana, the total economic contribution of the sweet potato industry rose to nearly $80 million last year.

–Oysters. Louisiana oyster producers harvested nearly 2.9 million sacks of this delicacy in 2002, which posted a value of more than $7.6 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 the production cycle was down in 2002, Louisiana still produced 6.9 million pounds of pecans with a gross farm value of $4.5 million. And experts say production this year could be double that amount.

–Pumpkins. Although their contribution to pies for holiday dinners may be their greatest benefit, pumpkins also make an economic contribution to Louisiana. The statewide production of fresh pumpkins in Louisiana last year was more than 33,000 hundred-weight, worth just over $666,000 at the farm gate.

–Sweet Corn, Other Vegetables. Sweet corn was produced by about 250 growers across the state, who turned out nearly 4.5 million ears of corn worth more than $1.1 million as it left the farm last year. But the vegetables don’t stop with corn. There are a host of other vegetables grown in the state that may be on your table this year, and the Louisiana commercial vegetable industry involves nearly 1,500 growers in 52 parishes who produce more than 50 different vegetable crops, including tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplants and cabbages. Those vegetables posted a gross farm value of nearly $47 million and a total economic contribution of nearly $117 million last year.

–Citrus. Louisiana citrus, which includes popular satsumas and navel oranges, represents a $6 million industry in 15 southern parishes.

–Sugarcane. Much of the sugar you use in various holiday treats may have been grown right here in Louisiana. Sugarcane was grown on nearly 500,000 acres in 25 Louisiana parishes last year. Despite weather-related losses, it still posted a gross farm value of $334 million and contributions from further processing of $214 million – for a total economic boost of $548 million in 2002.

–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 more than 1,700 producers harvesting more than 3 billion pounds of rice worth nearly $160 million last year.

"Of course, agriculture is more than a business to those who work in it day-in and day-out. For them, it is a way of life," Richardson said, adding, "No one would doubt that the production of food is a way of life for Louisiana's farm families."

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