Record crop gives sugarcane growers options

Johnny Morgan  |  3/21/2018 6:57:02 PM

(03/21/18) BATON ROUGE, La. Now that the record sugarcane crop is in the books — what now?

LSU AgCenter economist Michael Deliberto tells growers this is a good time to assess their individual situations.

“After a season like this, growers will need to look at their equipment and other potential inputs they may need to invest in,” he said. “Paying down some debt may also be on their minds.”

During the past few years when the crop was not as good and the prices were not impressive, many growers neglected investing in newer equipment.

But Deliberto says every crop is different, and this year’s crop was really special because it had high tonnage and high sugar content.

“So this year we got the best of both worlds,” he said. “Last year we had what would be called a lighter crop, which means it was low tonnage but the recovery rate was higher.”

Growers are paid on the sugar per acre that they produce and send to the mill.

“With a harvest like we had this year with high tonnage, high sugar content, good growing conditions, drier conditions at harvest this all translates to a higher return to the grower,” he said.

Jim Simon, American Sugar Cane League general manager, said it takes a number of factors working together to harvest a crop at this level.

"Louisiana's sugarcane farmers have harvested some outstanding crops the last five years or so, and we're fortunate the right combination of farming skill and weather came together this year,” Simon said. “However, our industry is built on our commitment to scientific research. We dedicate a lot of resources to develop high-sugar-yielding and cold-tolerant varieties as well as efficient sugar recovery techniques. And it pays off in successful crops."

When the growers experience a harvest season that is relatively dry, they are able to bring a higher- quality cane to the mill with less mud and trash, Deliberto said.

AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois was able to describe the 2017-18 cane crop in just a few words: “A great crop, a great year.”

Gravois said that sugar production in Louisiana set a record at 1.82 million tons, resulting from field yields averaging 8,853 pounds of sugar per acre.

The all-time record for sugar per acre was 8,415 pounds in 2012.

Deliberto said one of the big questions on growers’ minds right now is how much damage did the ice and snow back in January cause to the cane that was planted last fall?

Mike Strain, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry commissioner, was also excited about the sugarcane crop this year.

“Sugarcane is one of the state’s top commodities in Louisiana,” Strain said. “We had an excellent growing season, good harvest season and record yields.”

Fortunately, the severe winter weather in December and January had minimal impact on the crop, he said.

“We are seeing more sugarcane acreage planted than in the past and hope for another banner year this year,” Strain said.

In the U.S., sugarcane is grown in Louisiana, Florida and Texas, and sugar beets are grown for sugar in the upper midwestern states. Hawaii no longer produces sugarcane.

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Sugarcane being harvested in Ascension Parish. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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