Wild hogs going hog wild in Avoyelles

Cause $30 million damage in state; $3 million in Avoyelles

 

By Raymond L. Daye
    Wild hogs are becoming more and more of a pest and an economic drain on farmers in Avoyelles Parish and statewide.
    Hogs caused at least $30 million in crop damage in Louisiana in 2013, and the amount of damage is believed to be increasing each year. In Avoyelles alone, feral hogs cost farmers an estimated $3 million in damage to the parish’s soybean, corn, cane and other crops, LSU AgCenter economist Shaun Tanger said.
    Tanger, who led a team studying the effects of feral hogs in the state, said his figures are still preliminary and “being fine tuned.” The final report should be finished in about a month. He has been working with  forest products specialist Rich Vlosky and wildlife/fisheries special Michael Kaller to gather information from Louisiana farmers about hog activity and damage.
    “Up to this point, we’ve only had anecdotes, so we wanted to quantify how much cost is associated with feral hog activity,”   Tanger said. The team has been working for over a year to get numbers to support the anecdotes of widespread devastation due to wild hogs going hog wild on the state’s farms.
 
Heavily  Reported
    “Avoyelles is one of our more heavily reported parishes,” Tanger said. “The Bunkie area is particularly hard hit by hogs. Marksville and Moreauville also had good numbers.”
    Damage is not only caused by rooting up and consuming the crops. Hogs also damage farm equipment, spread fatal diseases to wildlife and livestock, undermine roadways and damage levees.
    Hog-damaged crops often sell at a reduced price -- if the farmer can sell them at all.
    Tanger said his study found soybeans to be the hardest hit crop statewide, with $9 million of damage from hogs. Hay producers reported $7 million of lost revenue while rice and corn farmers both lost $5 million. 
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 6 million feral hogs live in at least 41 states. California, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas have some of the largest populations. Louisiana has about 500,000 wild hogs. The north half and southwest areas of  Avoyelles join northeast Evangeline, Concordia, Catahoula, southern LaSalle, north and east Rapides and Grant parishes as one of the state’s “hot spots” for hogs.
    Statewide, 31 percent of farmers in the AgCenter study said they have hogs problems.
    In Avoyelles, 40-75 percent of farmers in the southwest corner and north half of the parish reported damage from the porcine pests.
 
“Knock it flat”
    Ruben Dauzat, who farms 1200 acres in the Simmesport area, said he has had some problems with hogs. He estimated about 1 percent of his acreage fell prey to hogs “that just come into a field and knock it flat.”
    The damage is not just from hogs eating the crops, but from the destructive nature of the animal’s activity.
    “It looks like they just like to tear things up,” Dauzat said. “They get into the crop with their snout and just knock it down. When that happens, it’s a total loss.”
    Dauzat said he has friends who have lost 5 to 10 percent of their crops to hogs.
    Even relatively minor damage “can add up. That’s an acre that we planted, treated with insecticide and herbicide and worked, and we get absolutely no return on that investment.”
    Tommy Laborde, who farms in the Hamburg area, said he considers himself fortunate in the hog war.
 
“Haven’t found me”
    “I have had some pasture damage at some land I have in the Bordelonville area,” he said. “I have friends in Bordelonville that have had a hard time with hogs. There are also hogs around Simmesport. I have them on both sides of me, but so far they haven’t found me.”
He said a fellow-farmer closer to Alexandria “had to replant 100 acres of corn because the hogs got into his fields. That is an expensive proposition.”
    Clay Roblin, who farms in the Bordelonville area and near Lake Ophelia, had a running battle with hogs this year.
    “The damage wasn’t devastating, but it sure was aggravating,” Roblin said. “They’re a nuisance and they are hard to control.”
Roblin said farmers can put electric fences around their fields “but that gets expensive.”
    He said hogs will get into a field just after seeds have been planted, root it up and eat the seeds.
    “You have to replant and you also have to replow the field,” he said.
 
No good  solutions
     At this time, there are no good solutions to the problem.
    Dauzat said farmers “have permission to shoot them 24/7 now, but they breed so fast that it is impossible to stay on top of them that way.” 
    Roblin echoed that sentiment, saying the only solution available to battle the pigs “is to hunt them and to put as much pressure on them with dogs that they decide to leave your fields alone.”
    The numbers game is not in farmers’ favor.
    Tanger said 75 percent of feral hogs would have to be killed just to maintain the current level of infestation. 
    Eating anything in its way is just one of a hog’s strong points. A sow can have up to two litters a year, with an average litter being six piglets.
    The fear is that hogs will do as their California cousins have done, and move from the rural areas to the suburbs.
    People don’t think of hogs as dangerous animals. They may be more afraid of a yipping Chihuahua than they are of a full-sized grunting hog. However, as those who raise hogs are aware, they can be dangerous.
    If hogs move into more densely populated areas, it would lead to potentially dangerous human-hog encounters -- ranging from car accidents to actual attacks by the animal.
    “Once this becomes a non-farm problem, it will become a much more urgent policy problem,” Tanger said.
    The most effective way to control feral hogs is trapping and killing them. AgCenter scientists have been studying alternatives, including sodium nitrite-based bait.
    A concern with this, or any other poison bait trap, has been in developing a trap that would not also attract and harm black bears and other non-targeted animals.

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