(09/23/22) NAPOLEONVILLE, La. — Sugarcane farmers have begun their harvest, and that means south Louisiana sugar mills have opened their gates to accept the first loads of this year’s crop.
It also means highways are becoming busy with tractors and trucks hauling cane to be processed.
LSU AgCenter experts and sugarcane farmers are urging everyone to be careful and patient when they encounter farm machinery, cane trucks and field debris on the road.
“Please give the farm equipment and trucks plenty of space on the road and be very cautious when trying to pass them,” said Renee Castro, an AgCenter area sugarcane agent. “We want everyone to stay safe during the harvest season. Remember, cane families care about your family.”
Sugarcane is grown on about 500,000 acres throughout south and parts of central Louisiana. The industry contributes nearly $1 billion to the state’s economy annually.
In Assumption Parish, farmer Lance Gaudet is preparing for what he thinks will be a good harvest.
“The crop in the field looks promising, so it seems like it will be a 90-plus day harvest,” he said.
Both mills in his parish plan to open the week of Sept. 26 and expect to process about 2.1 million tons of sugarcane this year, he said. That equates to roughly 76,000 truckloads — about 840 loads per day of harvest season, which typically lasts into December.
Harvest season can bring many challenges for both farmers and the general public, especially when adverse weather conditions enter the picture. Rain muddies fields and makes it difficult to harvest the crop. When tractors need to cross to another field and trucks arrive to pick up loads of cane, mud sticks to their tires and can end up on highways.
Farmers do their best to clean mud off of roads and post signs warning of upcoming hazards, Gaudet said. But drivers still need to slow down and pay attention when they see harvest and loading activity ahead.
Fog can be a problem too, Gaudet said. Trucks travel at a much slower pace when it is foggy. Motorists should use caution, as they may not be able to see a slow-moving cane truck shrouded in fog right away.
Gaudet also said many farmers are having trouble with people riding ATVs in their fields without permission. Riding through tall sugarcane during the busy harvest season is dangerous.
“Do not ride where you are not permitted to ride because all it takes is a tractor, truck or even harvester to be coming out the field onto a road where an ATV is traveling and the two collide,” Gaudet said.
With some cooperation from the public, sugarcane farmers are looking forward to a fruitful harvest of a crop that has a rich history and a major economic impact in Louisiana. In his parish alone, Gaudet said, mills are projecting they will make about 500 million pounds of sugar this year — enough sugar for the entire population of Louisiana for a year.
“We have been growing sugarcane in this parish for over 100 years, and for us to continue to do so, we need to work with each other during this season and every harvest season to make it a safe and successful harvest,” Gaudet said. “Sometimes there will be mud on the highway and sometimes you will get stuck behind a slow cane truck or tractor traveling on the highway. Just remember that our sugar mills and farmers are doing the best they can to get this crop in so you can have sugar in your home and numerous other homes in the United States.”
Sugarcane being harvested. LSU AgCenter file photo