Louisiana Sugarcane Crop Breaks Record

Kenneth Gautreaux  |  3/14/2018 4:46:51 PM

Craig Gautreaux

Louisiana sugarcane farmers just finished a memorable year — one that saw them harvesting cane on a rare snow day in December and set a record for the most sugar produced in state history.

The 2016-17 sugarcane crop produced a record amount of recoverable sugar per ton of cane. Tonnage for this year’s crop was up compared to last year.

“This year we had good sugar recovery,” said LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois. “In addition, we had good tons of cane per acre. So we had sugar and tonnage, and that’s a great combination.”

Gravois said this year’s crop consisted of about 440,000 acres of cane, up about 10,000 acres from the year before. The crop yielded about 15 million tons of cane — the second-highest amount ever — and a record-high 1.82 million tons of sugar.

This year’s grinding season was an extended one because the crop was exceptional. Sugarcane mills in the Bayou Teche area remained open until mid- to late-January.

Weather always is a factor in producing a successful crop. Last year’s dry harvest got the 2017-18 crop off to a good start, and rain came just when the crop needed it.

“We just had timely rains. We didn’t have too much rain. We didn’t have too little rain,” Gravois said. “Someone said it looks like this crop was irrigated.”

A rare snowstorm in early December dumped 2 to 4 inches across Louisiana’s sugarcane growing region. It created minor problems because some cane was laid down from the weight of the snow, but it did not create any long-term issues.

“The duration of that freeze wasn’t that long, and it looks like we escaped some of the most damaging aspects of it,” Gravois said.

After the snowstorm, rains slowed the harvest, but Gravois said that was to be expected moving into the latter part of December.

“This crop sets us up well for the 2018 crop,” he said. “Even though the last part was wet, the majority of this crop was harvested under dry conditions,” he said.

There is some concern for the 2018 crop because of the record-setting cold Louisiana experienced mid-January. It is unclear if plant cane — sugarcane planted late during the 2017 summer to start the next crop — was damaged.

“We won’t know until the crop gets moving,” Gravois said. “The duration of the cold wasn’t that long, so hopefully we dodged a bullet.”

Speaking at a sugarcane growers meeting after the harvest was completed, Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar can League, said the bumper crop came at a good time.

“It tells them we need all the allocation we have,” he said, referring to the amount of sugar Louisiana is allowed to market.

Craig Gautreaux is a communications specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article appears in the winter 2018 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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Sugarcane lies toppled in a field near Lecompte from a rare snowstorm that struck Louisiana on Dec. 8, 2017. An expert from the LSU AgCenter said the snow did not have a major effect on this year’s crop because the freeze following the storm was not severe. The crop yielded 15 million tons — the second-highest amount ever — and a record 1.82 million tons of sugar. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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A sugarcane cart makes its way through the snow in a field near Lecompte on Dec. 8, 2017. The rare snowstorm caused some minor issues but did not damage the state’s sugarcane crop, which produced an all-time record of 1.82 million tons of recoverable sugar. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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A farmer harvests sugarcane in the snow near Lecompte on Dec. 8, 2017. Despite a wet growing season and an early December snowstorm, Louisiana set a record in terms of sugar produced this year. More than 15 million tons of cane were harvested producing 1.82 million tons of recoverable sugar. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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