Even with difficult harvest, La. sugarcane could set new record

(11/12/18) NEW IBERIA, La. — The 2018 Louisiana sugarcane crop has the potential to set a record if weather conditions are favorable.

“We have a tremendously good crop out there,” said LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois. “We could beat the record crop we had last year.”

Sugar recovery so far is not as good as last year, but the tonnage is high with many farms averaging more than 40 tons an acre. “That’s really, really good,” Gravois said.

The total statewide yield is estimated at 16 million tons from 427,000 harvested acres. Last year’s crop was 15 million tons on 420,000 harvested acres.

Gravois doubts that sugar recovery will be as high as last year’s record of 246 pounds of sugar per ton of cane. Total sugar production for Louisiana should be near the amount of last year’s production of 1.82 million tons of sugar.

In many fields stalks have fallen over from weather events, but harvesters are still able to cut the downed cane. Much of this crop was planted with the variety L01-299, and it doesn’t lodge as bad as some previous varieties, Gravois said.

Fields also are muddy from frequent rainfall, and that makes for a sloppy harvest with more equipment maintenance and breakdowns. Sugar mills also have to remove the mud when the cane is processed into raw sugar, he said.

The wet field conditions have also prevented some farmers from planting. Although it’s not too late to plant cane, the window of opportunity is closing fast. The amount of unplanted fallow acreage is only 1 to 2 percent, but some farmers have a significant amount of unplanted acreage, he said.

The cold snap in mid-November shouldn’t affect the crop at all because the temperatures won’t reach the critical point of sub-26 degrees. At that point, he said, the cane stalks break open and allow damaging microorganisms to enter the plant and inflict damage that affects sucrose recovery.

Mills are planning to operate until mid-January, he said.

Blair Hebert, LSU AgCenter sugarcane agent for Iberia, St. Martin, St. Mary, Vermilion, Acadia and Lafayette parishes, said rainy weather has been frustrating for farmers.

“We can’t have a couple of nice days. We’re 45 days into the harvest, and I bet we’ve had less than 10 good days,” Hebert said.

Growers are hoping the mid-November cold front will bring several consecutive days of dry weather.

Tonnage is high, close to 40 tons per acre, but sugar recovery is less than last year, Hebert said.

The rutting of fields by harvest equipment will require farmers to work in the spring to get the land back in shape, he said. Standing water in some fields has compounded the harvest problems, and farmers have to work constantly to keep mud off roads.

Some fields may not get planted because of wet conditions, and weed control in fields that were planted has been a challenge because the rainfall has complicated herbicide applications, Hebert said.

Area sugar mills had been projected to end grinding by Jan. 5-7, but that has been extended to Jan. 10-15.

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A tractor hauling a cart loaded with sugarcane makes its way through a muddy field. Rainy weather has made harvest more of a challenge across the sugarcane-growing area of Louisiana, but the yield could set a record. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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Farmer George LaCour, of Pointe Coupee Parish, inspects a stalk of sugarcane in a field of cane blown down after a thunderstorm. LaCour said the harvest of this field will be slower because of the downed stalks. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

11/12/2018 9:56:27 PM
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