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Cane producers look forward to 2024

Dr. Kenneth Gravois at the 2024 Lafourche-Terrebonne LSU Sugarcane Growers Meeting

Despite 2023’s drought, Louisiana’s landowners, sugarcane producers and millers continue to have confidence in sugarcane in 2024.

Kenneth Gravois, the LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist, is not surprised.

“There are two factors for the continued increase in sugarcane production: increased acreage and better sugar production from third year and older cane stubble,” said Gravois.

There are more than 500,000 acres devoted to sugarcane cultivation — the tenth straight year of expansion. The industry has been increasing milling and refining capacity steadily over the last 15 years. Some mills entered into a consortium that built a new state of the art sugar refinery in Gramercy. To supply the increased capacity, mills have been recruiting new farmers to sugarcane by offering harvesting and hauling services. As a result of these practices, there has been substantial increase in acreage, mostly in Vermilion, Pointe Coupee, Avoyelles and Rapides parishes. Sugarcane has even made it up to Concordia Parish as well. Pointe Coupee is now the largest sugarcane producing parish in the state with 66,000 acres devoted to the crop. Iberia Parish is second with more than 56,000 sugarcane acres.

Coupled with superior varieties, the strong safety net for sugarcane in the farm bill provides for stability in sugarcane production in Louisiana.

But Dr. Gravois says there was something different about the 2023 sugarcane crop.

“Something unique happened in the sugarcane crop last year,” he said. “Third and older stubble is a larger percentage of the crop than plantcane and first stubble or second stubble.”

“The biggest reason for that has been the preference of our industry to plant 50 percent of the crop with the L01-299 variety that stubbles well,” Gravois said. “Plus, we are also beginning to surround 299 with newer and good stubbling varieties like HoCP 14-885. Sugarcane varieties with good stubbling ability has been a research goal of our basic breeding program forever and we now have some very good varieties that increase the plant cycle. That’s part of the reason why farmers are going into sugarcane and acreage is increasing.”

On the other hand, sugarcane yield expectations are guarded for the 2024 crop year. As everyone knows, agricultural success is contingent upon the whims of Mother Nature and the grand lady was not fully cooperative in 2023 as the cane belt suffered through drought conditions last summer during the critical “grand growth” stage.

The 2022 crop year produced more than 17 million tons of cane and two million tons of raw sugar. We surpassed Florida as the number one cane producing state. We were expecting similar yields for 2023, but the rains didn’t come. Timely precipitation hit some growers while a farm two miles away received none. Several said they had their best year ever while others, just one parish away, reported their worst.

But even with the drought event, Louisiana’s sugarcane industry still produced 1.8 million tons of raw sugar, one of our top five production years ever.

by Jim Simon, American Sugar Cane League

Louisiana’s sugarcane growers and millers produce 20 percent of America’s sugar supply. We are a dependable, affordable, safe and critical part of our nation’s food supply chain. We recognize our responsibility and that is why we work so hard to continue improving how we make sugar. We look forward to the 2024 sugarcane harvest.

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