Sugarcane producers anxious to finish planting

(08/25/16) ST. GABRIEL, La. – LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois believes it will be some time before the full extent of the damage from recent flooding to the state’s sugarcane crop is known. If favorable weather occurs, damages may be minimized, especially on newly planted cane.

“All we can do right now is be patient and see how the cane that was recently planted responds. It’s not like we’re going to plow that out and replant it next week,” Gravois said.

But planting is what sugarcane farmers need to be doing now, he said. Persistent wet weather has made this year’s planting season, which typically starts in late July and runs through August, a difficult one.

“We would have been planting probably in late July had weather conditions permitted, so this wet pattern didn’t just start with the recent floods,” Gravois said.

One element that was absent from the flooding rain was any substantial wind. Most tropical systems this time of year are accompanied by wind that causes the cane to blow down, making harvesting conditions more challenging.

“There was not a lot of wind with this event. Most of the cane stayed erect,” Gravois said.

Gravois expects yield losses from the flooding to range from 2 to 3 percent, but he said conditions after a significant weather event will dictate the extent of the total damages.

“I’ve got no cane in the ground,” said St. Martin Parish sugarcane farmer Justin Frederick. “I’ve got 350 acres to plant, and not a stalk in the ground.”

Much of Frederick’s crop was flooded with 2 feet of water or more. Some of the canes had put out roots on the nodes above ground.

AgCenter agent Stuart Gauthier in St. Martin Parish said the adventitious roots are signs of plant stress that probably will result in reduced sugar yields.

About 15 to 20 percent of expected acreage has been planted this year. This cane will not be harvested until fall 2017. Farmers need to finish their planting soon and turn their attention to the harvest because the sugar mills are expected to begin grinding in a month, Gravois said.

“Some of those dates have been set as early as Sept. 22. If we really get in a bind with planting, those can get pushed back, but there’s a risk on the back side of that,” he said.

That risk is pushing harvest completion to a later date and risking a killing freeze. A hard freeze can cause the juices in the cane stalks to sour in a relatively short period of time.

Some ripeners have been applied, yet some farmers have not even started planting.

In some areas, water still covers fields and is not draining because rivers and bayous are full. Sugarcane fields in St. James, Ascension, St. Martin, Iberia, Lafayette, Vermilion and St. Landry parishes suffered the most damage.

Preliminary estimates by AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry put the damage at $3.2 million.

Despite some areas receiving nearly 70 inches of rain this year, Gravois still sees a good cane crop.

“We’re still bullish on the cane crop that is out there. People would just like to get in the fields, put their hands on some stalks and finish planting,” he said.

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Sugarcane farmer Justin Frederick, left, and Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Martin Parish, examine a sugarcane stalk that had been flooded with 2 feet of water in a field near Arnaudville, Louisiana. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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A sugarcane plant has started growing roots on the nodes that were submerged for several days in a field near Arnaudville, Louisiana. Photo by Bruce Schultz

8/25/2016 1:56:30 PM
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