Laura agriculture

An aerial drone photo shows downed trees in the Vernon Unit of the Kisatchie National Forest. The LSU AgCenter estimates that timber damage from Hurricane Laura totaled $1.1 billion.

Hurricane Laura caused an estimated $1.6 billion in damage to Louisiana crops and forests — easily topping $1.5 billion inflicted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

The 2005 hurricanes also included fisheries damage, which hasn't been tallied from Laura and will increase its figures, according to the LSU AgCenter.

The storm did $1.1 billion in damage to the Louisiana timber industry and $525.4 million to Louisiana farmers.

Laura devastated 757,538 acres of timber from the southwest to northeast parts of the state, according to a report by AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry and AgCenter forestry specialist Michael Blazier.

The losses caused by the storm are expected to increase once the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries releases damage estimates for the fisheries industry.

Guidry said Laura will end up being one of the costliest storms ever for Louisiana agriculture.

“Based on the amount of infrastructure damage that occurred and the losses associated with timber, the total economic impact to the food and fiber sector from Hurricane Laura will be as large as or larger than any storm that I have developed estimates for since my time with the AgCenter,” he said.

From a timber standpoint, Blazier said, Laura appears to be the most devastating storm to hit Louisiana, even more destructive than Katrina and Rita combined. “It’s demoralizing. I checked and checked and rechecked the figures, and if anything, it’s conservative,” he said.

Using data from aerial surveys by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Vernon Parish was estimated to have the largest economic loss of timber at $360 million on 160,416 acres, followed by Rapides, Beauregard, Grant and Allen parishes, all estimated to have timber damage exceeding $100 million.

The heaviest damage tracked the path of the storm’s eye as it went almost all the way to Arkansas as a hurricane. Anecdotal evidence suggests the worst damage occurred in forests that had been thinned recently. “There was just more wind that could come through those stands,” Blazier said.

In addition, the report said Laura will have long-term effects on the timber industry, with increased debris resulting in more disease and insect pressure on surviving timber. Also, the debris will worsen the potential for wildfire outbreaks and increase the costs of establishing new tree growth.

The state’s rice crop suffered most, the report said, with 74,000 acres affected for an economic impact of $28.5 million. The sugar cane crop is expected to take a 3.2% hit in yield, a loss of 50 million pounds valued at $8.2 million.

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