Behind the scenes of the crawfish business, day one

The crawfish business, day one

Spring is here, and if you're a Louisiana native, you know what that means, it's prime time for crawfish.

But those mudbugs can be expensive. While people will go the extra mile and pay the extra dime, the price of crawfish is a common complaint amongst consumers.

This is part one of a three part series on crawfish, from the flooded fields to your boiling pots, explaining why those delicious morsels hold such a steep price.

The crawfish business is a long and somewhat tedious process. In fact, farmers are already preparing for the 2013 season, before the 2012 season is even over.

It all starts with rice. The fields are already planted with rice, which serves two major purposes: one as a food source for the crawfish in the coming months and two as a second income for farmers when it's time for harvest.

The pumps are running and the water rushing, all to keep the rice fields flooded for proper growth.

"In the past years, it cost us lots of money to pump the fields up because no rain, no help with mother nature," said crawfish farmer Adrian Augustine. "So it was very, very costly to us."

As the water flows, so does the diesel fuel through the pump's engine, a huge expense for the crawfish farmers.

"With the fuel prices being high like they are, the pumping cost to us used to be 100$ a day years ago," said Augustine. "Now, it's about 400-500$ per day depending on what kind of diesel engine you're running and how many gallons per hour you're burning. So you know whenever you go from 100$ a day to 500$ a day, it's a big difference."

"Folks really don't realize how expensive it is to get crawfish to the table," said Brad Soileau, owner of JT's Seafood.

"The diesel prices, as everybody knows the gas and diesel prices, it's so high," said Augustine. "It's really hurt our pocket books."

Another expense for crawfish farmers comes through the seeding process. Farmers must plant or seed the rice fields with crawfish during the summer months. Augustine seeds his crawfish ponds with one to two sacks per acre.

Early in the season, Augustine believed 2012 would be a good one.

"In my opinion, but I'm not God, it's going to be a very good season," said Augustine.

His prediction came from the number of crawfish in his traps, traps that are delivered by the hundreds, but baited and put out one by one.

The daily trapping process of getting the crawfish in the trap starts early in the morning, but during peak times in the season, like Easter, trapping can become an around the clock adventure.

Each day the bait is cut, put in buckets and loaded on to small boats. Drivers run the boats up and down the cuts picking up traps. The crawfish are dumped into a small grader where they then travel into sacks. The traps are baited again and put back out for the next day.

But that's just the beginning of the daily crawfish process.

"People still think they should be buying crawfish for 50 cents a pound," said Soileau. "I just think those days are gone. Just because of the cost to get it to the table."

Once all of the traps are emptied and the crawfish are sacked, the rest of the farming process begins.

Tuesday, we'll take you through the next portion of the crawfish business:the purging, grading and weighing.

We'll also compare this year's crawfish catch to past years with factors that affect the overall season.

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