Louisiana sugar growers see sweet harvest

12/21/2007 9:58:09 PM

News Release Distributed 12/20/07

Louisiana farmers are approaching the end of a good sugarcane harvest, according to industry observers.

“It’s been one of the better harvest years we’ve seen in quite some time,” said Dr. Ben Legendre, sugarcane specialist with the LSU AgCenter.

Legendre said many of the state’s sugar processing factories will be finished by Christmas, and the rest should be done by the end of the year or the first week of the new year.

“The 2007 sugarcane crop in Louisiana turned out to be a pretty good crop,” said Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League in Thibodaux.

Harvest conditions were favorable for farmers, Simon said. And although it wasn’t a bumper crop, it was better than the past four to five years.

“It’s good to have a good crop that’s efficient to get out of the field,” he said.

During the harvest season, relatively dry weather facilitated the harvest, and sugarcane fields had no damage from tropical storms during the growing season, Legendre said.

The LSU AgCenter specialist characterized the crop year as having high yields with good sugar production per ton of harvested cane. Current price, on the other hand, is the lowest in about 20 years.

Legendre said U.S. sugar consumption has been stable at about 10 million tons a year. Sugar production and required imports, however, have been exceeding demand. The current surplus of about 1 million tons of sugar combined with a good harvest has suppressed prices.

“All in all, we have a good crop of sugar from sugarcane and a good crop from sugar beets,” he said of the national situation. With expected imports from Mexico, the prices for sugar will likely be low for the coming year.

The only drawback to this year’s crop is prices, which have fallen during the season, Simon said. He added that fuel prices, which are approaching record levels, have helped stifle the profitability of this year’s sugar crop.

Weather also helped sugarcane planted this year for future years’ harvest.

“Early-planted fields are doing well,” Simon said of the planting season which began in August and continued into the fall. “We’re looking forward to a warm winter and early spring to get the 2008 crop off to a good start.”

The Louisiana sugar industry has been helped by new varieties that have been released by the LSU AgCenter and the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the American Sugar Cane League over the past few years.

“New varieties show lots of promise,” Simon said, pointing out that the 2007 crop included about 50 percent new varieties, and next year’s crop could include about 80 percent new varieties based on what was planted in 2007.

Legendre said a newer sugarcane variety, HoCP 96-540, “performed extremely well tonnage-wise and sugar-wise.”

Sugarcane is produced on nearly 450,000 acres on nearly 700 farms in 23 Louisiana parishes, and the state produces about 20 percent of the sugar grown in the United States from both beets and sugarcane. Sugarcane is processed in 12 factories in the state.

A leading crop in its economic contribution to the state, sugarcane had a gross farm value in 2006 of nearly $320 million according to the Ag Summary published by the LSU AgCenter. The total value of the sugarcane crop to Louisiana growers, processors and landlords at the first processing level was nearly $538 million in 2006, the report said.

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Contact: Ben Legendre at (225) 642-0224 ext. 2044 or blegendre@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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