Hurricane Isaac Sugarcane Update

Kenneth Gravois  |  7/27/2013 12:02:38 AM

Hurricane Isaac Sugarcane Update (PDF version).

Hurricane Isaac began its slow crawl through Louisiana after coming onshore at 6:45 a.m. on August 29, 2012, at Port Fourchon in lower Lafourche Parish. The rain from the hurricane began the day before and lasted through much of the day on Thursday. Rain totals in the south Louisiana sugarcane-growing region varied widely. In the eastern areas along the lower Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche, rainfall totals were in the 7- to 10-plus-inch range. Less rain fell along Bayou Teche and the more western and northern areas, such as upper Pointe Coupee and Avoyelles and Rapides parishes. Rainfall at the Sugar Research Station was 5.3 inches; the USDA-ARS Sugarcane Research Unit farm had 7.2 inches; in contrast Mark Newton reported 1.25 inches in upper Pointe Coupee, and Teche totals were close to the 2-inch range. The highest wind gust recorded at the Sugar Research Station was 68 mph; a 49 mph wind gust was recorded at the USDA-ARS Sugarcane Research Farm in Chacahoula. The combination of wind and rain was enough to lodge the sugarcane crop throughout the entire region.

On Thursday, August 30, I drove throughout the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche areas of the sugarcane belt to survey the effects of Hurricane Isaac. I also spoke with Windell Jackson, with the American Sugar Cane League, several county agents and a few growers to assess other areas of the state. The entire sugarcane crop in Louisiana has experienced some degree of lodging. The degree of lodging ranged from severe (see photo on right) to slightly leaning. Geography, variety and yield potential affected the degree of lodging. The crop is more severely lodged in the eastern areas. L 99-226 and L 99-233 are more severely lodged than varieties such as HoCP 96-540, L 01-283 and L 01-299. As you move toward the west and north, the degree of lodging is less severe. There appears to be only minimal stalk breakage, with most breakage seen in HoCP 00-950 and L 03-371. These two varieties occupy only small acreage in Louisiana. Winds from Hurricane Isaac did shred some of the leaves, but the effect of leaf shredding appears minimal.

The down cane will make the completion of planting more difficult and expensive. It is estimated the crop to be 50-60% planted at the time of the Hurricane Isaac’s passing, with growers ranging from complete to a few who are under 10% complete. With the rain and strong south winds, many farms have backwater that will slowly drain. Pumps are running, and it will take time to get water off. There is plenty of time to complete planting. Harvester operators will be scouting from on top of their machines in search of straighter seed cane as fields dry out and planting resumes. There may be some billet planting in areas where whole-stalk machines cannot adequately cut. Research by Dr. Jeff Hoy indicates that varieties such as HoCP 96-540, L 01-283 and L 01-299 tolerate billet planting best. The longer the billet seed piece, the better it will survive.

Hurricane Isaac will delay ripener applications for many growers. With raw sugar factories beginning the processing season in mid-September and early October, ripeners should have been going out when Hurricane Isaac was moving into south Louisiana. It should take about a week or more for the crop to upright itself enough for ripeners to be applied. Some areas with weak stubble crops could have ripener flown on as soon as the winds subside enough to allow the planes to fly. A down crop will put out more bull shoots and have delayed maturity. I encourage the use of ripeners once the tops of the cane straighten.

Lodged cane will certainly increase harvesting costs, but this industry has harvested down crops before. The weather during harvest will be the final determining factor for harvest costs and yield potential. A dry harvest will mitigate the effects of the hurricane; a wet harvest will compound the effects of the hurricane. We had a great crop going into the storm, and the potential still exists for an excellent sugarcane crop in Louisiana in 2012.

Best of luck.

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