Linda F. Benedict, Boucher, Robert W., Gillespie, Jeffrey M.
Narayan Nyaupane, Jeffrey Gillespie and Robert Boucher
As the largest U.S. crawfish producer, Louisiana had 1,265 crawfish farms covering more than 182,000 acres in 2013, according to the Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources published by the LSU AgCenter. Crawfish demand is greater than supply in the U.S., with a substantial portion of peeled crawfish imported from China. Given the importance of this industry, understanding the status of production and production practices can be used to target research, extension and policy activities.
Following is a brief overview of Louisiana crawfish production using data from a survey of Louisiana crawfish producers conducted in 2008. An eight-page questionnaire sent to 770 Louisiana crawfish producers yielded 75 usable responses.
Farm characteristics and producer demographics
On average, the Louisiana crawfish producers who responded to the survey had 662 acres of land, of which 211 were in crawfish production. Thirty-seven percent of the producers owned all of the land used for the crawfish operation, while 51 percent of the total crawfish land was rented. Of the land rented, 57 percent was under a cash lease, 27 percent was under a share lease, and 16 percent was under a combination cash-share lease. The farms in this sample do not differ greatly from estimates in the 2005 Census of Aquaculture.
The average age of crawfish producers was 54 years. Twenty-nine percent held at least a bachelor’s degree, and only 7 percent did not have a high school diploma. Average percentage of farm income derived from crawfish production was 34 percent, and average percentage of household income derived from the farm was 53 percent. The average producer had been farming crawfish for 20 years.
Production systems used
Crawfish are raised using six production systems, and some producers used more than one. Of the producers studied, 45 percent raised crawfish as a single crop with rice forage, and 28 percent double-cropped crawfish with rice. A rice-crawfish-fallow rotation and single-crop crawfish with a non-planted forage crop were each used by 27 percent. Single-crop crawfish with other planted forage was used by 11 percent, and a rice-crawfish-soybean rotation was used by 7 percent.
Water management and harvesting practices
On average, 14 days were used to flood crawfish ponds on first flood to an average water depth of 7.4 inches. Producers replaced all or a portion of their crawfish pond water on average once a season to maintain the dissolved oxygen content. Average annual water usage was 53 inches per acre. Sixty percent of the producers used subsurface wells, and 55 percent used surface water pumped from rivers, canals or marshes. In addition, 89 percent captured and stored rainfall to reduce pumping costs, 66 percent minimized sediment loading when draining ponds, 40 percent reused pond water, 36 percent used tail-water (excess water) for irrigating crops, 44 percent conducted soil tests, 80 percent avoided pumping/draining at the same time, 96 percent installed outlets to drain water, and 95 percent used water retention during summer drawdown.
Producers used an average of 15 traps per acre for harvesting crawfish. Most (97 percent) used boats as their main method for harvesting crawfish while 3 percent harvested by walking.
Marketing practices used
Among the practices employed prior to sale, 63 percent of producers graded their crawfish, 32 percent washed their crawfish, and 5 percent purged their crawfish (emptied digestive tracts). Eight percent owned and/or ran a commercial crawfish peeling operation. Marketing channels included wholesale markets (64 percent), direct to consumers (30 percent), retailers (23 percent) and processors (18 percent).
Cost of crawfish production
The average cost of production and breakeven crawfish selling prices for 2010- 2014 are based on results of the 2008 crawfish survey and input-price surveys conducted annually. Average breakeven crawfish selling prices required to cover direct (variable) expenses ranged from $0.74 per pound to $1.18 per pound, depending upon the production system. Average breakeven crawfish selling prices required to cover total expenses ranged from $0.57 per pound to $0.91 per pound, depending upon the production system.
On average, Louisiana crawfish producers used nearly one-third of their total farmland for crawfish production and received 34 percent of their total farm income from crawfish operations. A majority of the land was leased. The single-crop crawfish with rice forage system was the most commonly used, followed by ricecrawfish- double-crop, rice-crawfish-fallow rotation and single-crop crawfish with nonplanted forage crop, which were used by 27-28 percent each. Grading was a frequently used pre-marketing practice whereas most of the producers sold their crawfish via wholesale markets.
Narayan Nyaupane is a graduate assistant, Jeffrey Gillespie is the Martin D. Woodin Endowed Professor in Agricultural Business, and Robert Boucher is a research associate in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness.
This article was published in the summer 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.