Shaun M. Tanger, Kurt M. Guidry, Huizhen Niu, Trey Laviolette and Luke Habetz
Feral hog damage in the United States is estimated at $1.5 billion annually, based on a hog population estimate of 4 million individuals, but these estimates are conservative. While the awareness and concern regarding feral hogs in Louisiana has increased significantly over the past few years, quantifying the monetary losses created by this invasive species has been mostly anecdotal. To get a more accurate picture of how much economic damage results from feral hog activity, LSU AgCenter researchers conducted a survey.
During 2014 and early 2015, a questionnaire was mailed to more than 4,000 Louisiana agricultural producers. The response rate was 30 percent, with 1,192 responding. The purpose of this survey was to determine trends and patterns in feral hog damage to farming operations in the state, examining both commodity losses and other damages.
For each commodity listed in the survey, respondents were asked to provide the total number of acres produced in 2013, the number of acres damaged by feral hogs and an estimate of the percentage of yield loss or reduction experienced as a result of feral hogs. Price and yield data were obtained from the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Summary for Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The survey responses on the number of acres affected and estimated percentage yield losses were then combined with published data on state average yields and average prices for each commodity. The average yield per harvested acre in 2013, as reported by the Louisiana Summary, was used as the “normal” or “expected” yield producers would have experienced without feral hog damage. The average price received by producers in 2013, as reported by the Louisiana Summary, was used as the sales price producers were expected to make on their 2013 production.
With the published price and yield data, along with the survey estimates of acres affected and percent yield loss, the estimated economic impact of production losses to a particular commodity can be calculated as:
Economic Impact (by commodity type) = Acres Affected x (Yield x Yield Loss Percent) x Price
It should be noted that this economic impact reflects only losses associated with yield reductions and does not reflect any potential effects from quality losses.
The second area of the cost section of the survey was designed to elicit information about other damage caused by feral hogs. These are identified as nonproduction costs and include increases to production costs (replanting and additional field cultivation), losses of stored commodities, losses to hunting lease income, losses of livestock and repairs and replacement of damaged equipment and farm infrastructure. Respondents were asked to provide their estimates of the costs associated with each issue as a result of the presence of feral hogs. Those costs were then tabulated for the entirety of responses and transformed into state-level estimates based on the survey sample response.
Feral hogs were reported to be most prevalent in the northeast, along the Red River, along the Red River, and along the Mississippi River, followed by southwest Louisiana. These locations may be an artifact of the survey sample. Because farmers were the respondents, those areas where farming is most common are showing up most in the maps designed from the responses. Another interpretation is that the hogs are merely sticking close to waterways, which provide areas rich in the organisms hogs eat.
Tables 1 and 2 show dollar values attached to production losses and nonproduction losses. Total production losses were tabulated to be approximately $55 million from the study respondents. Commodity loss categories indicate soybeans were hit hardest by feral hogs in overall dollar losses at more than $18 million, followed by corn at about $13 million, rice at nearly $9 million and hay at nearly $6 million.
The total nonproduction-related losses were at more than $21 million statewide. Costs incurred (or dollar losses not related to lost production) indicate replanting costs were by far the largest. The second largest were additional cultivation costs, followed by damage to pastures and levees. The other category is a catchall for those not listed in the survey with specific headings.
Those numbers do not include losses associated with state and federal lands or other public areas within the state, nor do they include private lands (non-farms). The loss estimates here are strictly related to farming operations. Therefore, this total loss estimate is thought to be conservative. Nonetheless, this loss still represents a large enough economic loss that it should be considered a priority for state and federal policymakers to formulate prescriptions to mitigate these feral hog populations. Multiple public and private policy options should be cultivated to help stakeholders anticipate, recognize, evaluate and control the effects of this invasive species in the future.
The northeast (District III), central (District V) and southwest (District VII) regions had the largest amounts of total damage for both production and nonproduction losses, with the northwest (District I) region also registering close to $5 million in production damage (Figure 5 and Tables 1 and 2). Mitigation efforts are likely to have the biggest per-acre impact if focused in these regions. For now, it appears that the problem is largely a rural one. Slowing the feral hog populations before they reach more densely populated areas is key to avoiding incidence of human-hog interaction and indirect effects on large populations.
Feral hogs are known to carry waterborne pathogens that can affect drinking water, including E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium and Giardia, so they present a real threat to contaminating freshwater sources.
The results of this study are alarming because the effect on crops where damage in dollars is high is only a small percentage of acres of production. For example, the damage to soybeans at $18 million comes from only 5 percent of the acres reported. In 2013, soybeans generated $775 million in farm-gate value, so roughly 2.3 percent of overall value was destroyed by feral hog activity. Referring back to the population growth estimates for feral hogs, which predicts a doubling of the population in five years, indications are that the economic effects on soybean farmers could be quite devastating.
These survey results do not account for lawns and yards in rural and suburban locations – areas most likely to experience hog activity if populations continue to grow. It is not hyperbole to project a problem of hundreds of millions of dollars for Louisiana if feral hog activity proceeds unabated. Further, public land areas, which contain fragile and threatened plants and animals, along with a multitude of hunting opportunities, are not captured in the survey results but make up more than 2 million acres in the state. The effects on wildlife, as captured in lost hunting lease revenue, are significant, and it is a reasonable assumption that this would hold true on public lands.
Shaun M. Tanger is an assistant professor, Kurt M. Guidry is Gilbert J. Durbin Endowed Professor, and Huizhen Niu is an instructor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness. Trey Laviolette and Luke Habetz are both undergraduate students in the department.
(This article appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Map 1. This map shows where the survey responses came from by zip code.
Map 2. Locations where respondents reported feral hog damage to their property.
Map 3. Respondents reported how many acres were damaged by feral hogs.
Map 4. Location where respondents lost value on their farms from hog damage.
Map 5. National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Districts in Louisiana
Table 1. Estimated 2013 Crop Production Losses to Louisiana Agriculture from Feral Hogs
Table 2. Estimated 2013 Nonproduction Losses to Louisiana Agriculture from Feral Hogs