“This has been probably one of the best harvesting seasons the farmers have seen in many years,” says Alfred Guidry, St. Martin/St. Landry LSU AgCenter county agent.
Guidry touted the amount of sugar recovered so far this season as the best since 1999. That year the Louisiana SugarCane Cooperative (LASUCA) averaged 222 pounds of sugar recovered per ton of cane hauled to the mill.
“Already this year, 230s and 240s are not uncommon. If the season continues like it’s moving now, we could see similar numbers, or better (than in 1999).”
Though the dry, sunny weather has a lot to do with this year’s success thus far, farmers are doing their part as well.
“The mill is running extremely well because farmers are bringing quality cane,” Guidry said.
Such high sugar recovery has been quite a surprise for farmers, Guidry said the fortuitousness should continue. Up to this point in the season, most farmers have harvested their third stubble (and older) crops, Guidry said. This means that the younger, and usually stronger, crops are yet to be harvested
LASUCA and St. Martin Parish are not the only entities seeing a strong crop thus far. According to Jim Simon, president of the American Sugarcane League, Louisiana’s entire sugar belt is benefitting from current weather patterns.
“Though the storms may have hurt the crop some, the dry weather that followed them has been a Godsend,” Simon said. “It is allowing a very efficient harvest.”
Ben Legendre, Ph.D., LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist, reported that Hurricanes Gustav and Ike did damage the crops, but maybe not as much as expected.
“After the storms, the first estimates were that we would probably lose anywhere from three to 10 tons of cane per acre because the cane was lodged so badly,” Legendre said, “Now, however, we are finding that yields are not as bad as first feared.”
Guidry said the storms caused about a 10 percent loss to area crops, because of broken stalks and other wind damage. This has so far translated into a drop in cane tonnage throughout the state.
U.S. Sugar Market
Though the harvest is running smoothly, the strong crop will not be translated to income if the price of sugar does not rise.
For Tuesday, Nov. 11, #14 prices for January futures was just above 20 cents per pound of raw sugar.
“Unfortunately, prices have fallen a little bit, Simon said regretfully. “We were rallying at 23 or 24 cents, but now prices have fallen to the 20 or 21 cent level.”
Simon said an influx of 300,000 tons of imported sugar is a main cause for the domestic price plummet. Some industry professionals speculate that this may be a trickling effect from the general overall economic crisis.
While the dry weather is beneficial for the harvesting process, some rain is needed for the previously planted crop.
“We may run into problems next year with our plant cane because of the dry weather and that the crop was planted late,” Guidry said.
The late summer planting season was stalled with consistent rainfall that did not allow farmers to plant the new crop in a timely manner.
Guidry and Simon agree that a few inches of precipitation would be beneficial at this time, not only for the planted crop, but also for a slight tonnage increase for the harvest.