It looks as if Louisiana’s sugarcane grinding season is going to be an extended one. But there is a good reason for the late finish—an exceptional sugarcane crop.
Story by Craig Gautreaux
Photo above: Another wagon of sugarcane billets heads to the loading site on L. J. Carmouche's farm in Assumption Parish. Sam Irwin photo.
Most years, the majority of mills complete grinding by the end of December. While some may be finished by then this year, others are scheduled to continue grinding until as late as Jan. 20.
"That’s very late,” said Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist. "That makes a lot of people nervous going that late, but we’ve had a good crop. We’re sitting on a record crop here in Louisiana.”
Last year, Louisiana produced a record amount of recoverable sugar per ton of cane. But the crop was light in terms of tons per acre. This year, tonnage per acre is up.
"This year we have good sugar recovery,” Gravois said. "In addition, we have good tons of cane per acre. So we have sugar and tonnage, and that’s a great combination.”
The all-time record for sugar per acre was more than 8,400 pounds in 2012. Gravois said it looks like that record will be broken unless a major weather event, like an extended hard freeze occurs.
Weather always is a factor in producing a successful crop. Last year’s dry harvest got this year’s 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 anywhere from 2 to 4 inches across Louisiana’s sugarcane growing region. It created minor problems, as some cane was laid down from the weight of the snow, but it did not create any long-term issues.
"The duration of the freeze wasn’t that long, and it looks like we escaped some of the most damaging aspects of that,” Gravois said.
Rains have slowed the harvest recently, but Gravois said that is to be expected moving into the latter part of December.
Above photo by Bruce Schultz
"Most fields that are yet to be harvested are on the better, sandier lands, fields we can harvest and manage even if it does rain on us,” he said.
Gravois is optimistic about next year’s crop as well.
"This crop sets us up well for the 2018 crop,” he said. "Again, we’re harvesting under dry conditions. Even though the last part may be a little bit wet, we’ve harvested the majority of this crop under dry conditions,” he said.