Complaints of price fixing have prompted a coalition of crawfish farmers to petition the state attorney general to investigate the practices of crawfish processors. Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association Director Steven Minvielle alleges that processors are collectively dropping their buying prices to farmers overnight. However, processor and farmer Donald Benoit of D&D Crawfish in Gueydan, who sits on the Crawfish and Promotion Research Board, says the prices are a result of the free market and an industry in transition.
Benoit lists a chain reaction based on demand at the retail end: the high price of fuel, lack of labor, competition from Chinese crawfish, an early season, and the mysteries of the crawfish’s life cycle. Around Christmas, crawfish tails were selling as high as $17 a pound in stores. Last week, Champagne’s in the Oil Center was promoting a pound of fresh Louisiana crawfish tails for $8.99. Champagne’s markup is 99 cents, its wholesale price from the middleman $8. According to Benoit, $8-per-pound crawfish tails works out to 60 cents a pound for farmers selling live crawfish, a price that Minvielle says is unsustainable for farmers.
“They might have got too low at the stores,” says Benoit, “but it always justifies itself. If it gets too low, the crawfishermen can’t fish, then they got to come back up with the price, then everybody gets back to work. Usually it all takes its own course.”
As the weather warms, crawfish become more plentiful, and the demand is high during Lent, culminating on Good Friday. But because of the early season, Good Friday falls on March 21 this year, many crawfish are still too small to sell on the live market. Small crawfish — in the 60-cents-per-pound range — are “peelers” and need to be processed to be sold as crawfish tails. Benoit says the labor to peel crawfish is scarce to non-existent. “There’s not enough processors to handle all the crawfish we got out there. There are very few processors left in the business. Back in 1999, 2000, we had that Icon problem. [Icon is a pesticide used on the rice crop that decimated crawfish, which share the same ponds.] A lot of the processors went out of business and never came back. Some of it’s a labor problem, because they’re cutting back on Mexican labor and the processors can’t get their labor.”
Hand graded large crawfish, about eight to 10 crawfish to the pound, will fetch a price of anywhere from $1 to $1.75 currently, and are just beginning to appear in traps. However, sometimes ponds simply won’t produce big crawfish. “A lot of times,” says Benoit, “we’re in March, the crawfish won’t grow any more and you’ve got too much crawfish in the pond. Some of them ponds probably need to drain and wait for next year. We tried fishing out the smaller ones and letting the rest grow, but that doesn’t work.”
Another facet of the crawfish market is the uncertainty of the Atchafalaya Basin, which comes in later than the ponds. Depending on the amount of water from spring rains in the Midwest, wild crawfish production can boom or bust.
Adding to crawfishermen’s woes is the lack of federal insurance to help them out during a bad season. “Crawfish is the only commodity in Louisiana that has no insurance, no price support, no engine set up by the federal government,” says Minville. “If sugar takes a bad hit, a faction of USDA will come in and make up the difference in price. So will rice, beans and everything else. In crawfish, we are a true free market, and we are getting persecuted by it.”
Benoit discounts both the notion of collectively scaling back to increase prices and the accusations of price fixing. “There’s no solution,” he says. “I don’t think a strike’s going to be a solution. The only solution is if you can’t get enough money, you just have to leave that pond alone for a while. Most of us got to fish as long as we’re making money. The crawfish industry hadn’t changed. We’ve been in this for over 30 years. Crawfish starts coming in it gets peeled. The only thing hitting us is the high price of fuel and the labor problem. That’s the only thing changed. The people haven’t changed — they still are going to pay the same amount as they always have for crawfish. Bottom line is we’ll work as long as we’re making money.”
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.