Economy, technology take center stage at annual sugarcane meeting
The economy and latest technological farming trends came into focus as the American Society of Sugar Cane Technologists, in conjunction with the American Sugar Cane League, held its annual meeting on Feb. 7 to 9 at the L’Auberge Casino and Hotel in Baton Rouge.
Rob Johansson, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance, kicked off the proceedings by discussing macroeconomic issues and the sugar outlook. While the nation’s economy is in good shape and showing growth, inflation remains a concern.
“Demand and bottlenecks in the supply chain are still an issue, mostly in transportation,” he said. “Whether that’s deep-sea freight, which affects some of our sugar imports, or issues here in the U.S. where truck and rail transport inflation are running at higher levels than in the past.”
Allison Crittenden, director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau, spoke about rising production costs and farmers having to turn to guest worker programs like H2-A to fill the void due to a continued shortage in domestic workers.
“Over 20 states are paying more than $15 per hour for H-2A workers. It’s not that the farmers don’t want to pay their employees, but you can only pay what the market allows,” she said.
On the tech side, Al Orgeron, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, said that the coming together of the American Society of Sugar Cane Technologists and the American Sugar Cane League gives each side the opportunity to discuss best practices.
“It’s a way for the scientists and extension folks to exchange research ideas with other scientists and professionals,” Orgeron said. “And to try to give farmers, landowners and millers solutions to issues they may be having.”
Kenneth Gravois, AgCenter sugarcane specialist and secretary and treasurer of the ASSCT, said that after bringing the two groups together about 10 years ago, the conference was the “big meeting” that kicks off the year.
“People have had their noses to the grindstone; they’ve been planting and they’ve been harvesting for 100 days straight, so this is the first get together where we can discuss all the happenings in the industry,” Gravois said. “Between labor, price, research varieties and updates from the organizations, it’s just a good opportunity to see each other and ply this information toward the 2022 crop.”