Sweet Stuff: Crop expected to be average

Audit: Laf. overcharged FEMA
September 17, 2013
Scarlet letter for shrimp? Aquarium might be critical of catch
September 17, 2013
Audit: Laf. overcharged FEMA
September 17, 2013
Scarlet letter for shrimp? Aquarium might be critical of catch
September 17, 2013

Louisiana’s 2013 sugarcane harvest is not expected to be as sweet as last year’s record breaking harvest of 1.71 million tons of raw sugar.

“We had some late, cooler weather in April and May, and that kept the cane from reaching its full harvest potential,” said Greg Nolan, general manager of Lafourche Sugar in Thibodaux. “Last year, we processed more than 1 million tons of sugar. This year, we’re only expecting 950,000 tons.”

According to Nolan, the plant will begin grinding sugarcane Oct. 8 and hopefully complete the task by the end of year. The plant employs 85 full-time employees, but grinding time kicks that number up to 140 workers. Sugarcane will be ground 24/7 at the facility, and sugarcane from eight southeast Louisiana parishes, including the Tri-parishes, will be received at the plant.

“We get the most sugarcane from Lafourche, Ascension and Assumption parishes,” added Nolan, who will serve as King Sucrose at this year’s Sugarcane Festival in New Iberia.

Franklin sugarcane farmer Jessie Breaux will deliver a total of approximately 700 tons of sugarcane a day to the St. Mary Sugar Co-Op near Sorrel and Sterling Sugar in Franklin. The 31-year veteran of the state’s sugar industry is optimistic about his crop for this year but, like Nolan, does not think the state will surpass last year’s harvest.

“We’re looking good,” Breaux said. “We had lots of moisture, more than we actually needed, but the crop looks decent. The rain was falling in a way crops were responding well to. We were able to get fertilizer spread and planting done. The heat is good for the cane, too. It grows well in 80 to 90 degree temperatures.

“It’s got the potential to be a good crop, but the sugar content and tonnage are not known yet.”

Breaux will begin harvesting his 1,795 acres of sugarcane near Baldwin and Franklin on Oct. 4, and he hopes to have his entire crop to the mills by the end of December.

“I expect to harvest 60,000 tons this season,” he said. “Some sugarcane farmers in other parts of the state are struggling because there has been too little rain. We are doing well here, and the crops show it. The rain here could even back off a bit.”

In addition to a slightly reduced crop, farmers may also face a lower price on their product, according to American Sugar Cane League president Mike Daigle.

“Price is what is killing us this year,” Daigle said. “Last year was over productive. A few states here had bumper crops, and we also got over 2 million tons from Mexico last year. We had double the usual average of sugar in the marketplace.

“Sugar will be about 21 cents per pound this year, down from 30 cents last year.”

With the rising costs of equipment, fuel and labor, Daigle a sixth generation sugarcane farmer, is worried the low price will make it a tough year for mills and farmers but is confident the industry will endure.

“We will survive,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for 230 years.”

While prices will be lower, Daigle, who is also CEO of Lula-Westfield, which oversees the Lula Sugar Factory in Belle Rose and the Westfield Sugar Factory in Paincourtville, expects the state’s sugarcane harvest to be normal.

“Last year’s record crop averaged 39 tons per acre,” Daigle said. “This year, I think it will be more like 33 to 34 tons per acre. We could catch up to last year, but I don’t think it will go all the way.

“The rains have helped the cane but not farmers who were still trying to plant. They are planting now, catching up and finishing their planting. The hot weather now is also helping. All we have to do now is hope that we don’t have any hurricanes so the crop can keep growing.”

According to Mike Daigle, president of the American Sugar Cane League, last year’s record crop averaged 39 tons per acre but this year’s harvest will likely be 33-34 tons per acre. Sugar will also be about 21 cents per pound this year, down from 30 cents last year, according to the ASCL president.