Linda F. Benedict, McClure, Olivia J.
Every year, the LSU AgCenter publishes “Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources,” which tabulates the value of agricultural commodities produced in Louisiana. A unique resource, the summary has captured the history of Louisiana agriculture for the past 35 years and provides researchers, extension agents and farmers the information they need to make decisions.
“It’s the only resource for concrete information that gives a clear understanding of the contribution agriculture makes to Louisiana’s economy,” said AgCenter economist John Westra.
The first Ag Summary was printed in 1979, using data from 1978. Since then, cotton, rice and soybean acreage have decreased in favor of corn, which has become more profitable, Westra said. Louisiana’s dairy industry has declined while the poultry industry has grown. Forestry has remained the No. 1 agricultural commodity over the years.
Extension agents in each of Louisiana’s 64 parishes begin compiling data in the fall by contacting local producers. Those numbers are entered into an online database, which is verified by Westra, AgCenter state commodity specialists and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farm gate price information comes from a variety of sources, with the goal of getting the most local prices possible.
Westra said the data-gathering process helps agents become more familiar with the agriculture sector in their respective parishes and puts them in touch with farmers. Building those relationships is important, he said, because producers need to know whom to contact if they need assistance.
K-12 classrooms also use Ag Summary data to learn about agriculture, which is an important part of Louisiana history, Westra said. Many schools use the pocket-sized Highlights of Agriculture booklet, which includes key facts and figures from Ag Summary along with maps and photos.
The Ag Summary also helps the AgCenter and government agencies determine how to allocate resources, including disaster relief funds.
Only a few states have a resource as detailed as the Ag Summary, Westra said, and the USDA does not keep track of every commodity produced in individual states. Some commodities, such as crawfish, have a significant economic impact in Louisiana but nowhere else, so the USDA does not collect data on their production or sales.
The Ag Summary, on the other hand, keeps track of every agricultural commodity commercially produced in Louisiana. In 2013, Louisiana agriculture was worth $11.8 billion, making it one of the top three industries in the state.
“It helps highlight the diversity of agricultural production in Louisiana,” Westra said. “That’s an advantage. Many states went from having a diverse range of crops to just a few crops. Louisiana’s agriculture sector has become increasingly diverse, which means we can weather natural disasters and economic storms better.”
Olivia McClure is a student worker in LSU AgCenter Communications.
(This article was published in the spring 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)