Traditionally, the harvesting of sugar cane has always been finished by Christmas, but several recent years have pushed the end of harvest well into January.
This is one of those years, as experts from the American Sugar Cane League and Buckley "Buck” Kessler, general manager for Cora Texas Manufacturing, Iberville Parish’s only sugar mill.
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Kessler said the previous record sugar cane crop was in 2012, "and this crop looks like it’s going to be better than the ’12 crop.”
Kessler said last week he expected Cora Tex, the common name for the mill, to finish with about 200,000 tons more raw sugar this year over last year’s total.
"We’re going to be at about 1.760 million tons and we were around 1.475 last year,” he said.
Kessler said the yield per acre is also up this year, helping push the total tonnage of the crop up.
"The sugar yield is really strong,” he said. "We’re going to end up with around 9,600 pounds per acre,” he continued.
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, told the American Sugar Cane League. "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.”
Gravois agreed with Kessler about the higher yield per acre of sugar 2016 comparte
"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.”
Kessler said the rare snow event in early December, a heavy snowfall for south Louisiana, had little effect on the harvest.
"It knocked all of the cane over because of the weight of the snow,” he said, but modern cane cutters had no problem with the downed stalks. "The new machines can pick it up with no problem.”
"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,” Gravois said.
Other than the snow, Kessler said conditions were good for sugar cane farmers.
Iberville Parish received about 16 inches of rain over the grind and "the first 70 days were great – and dry,” he continued.
Gravois is optimistic about the 2018 crop too.
"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.
This year’s crop was expected to be good even at its start.
"We’re checking in about 700 loads of cane a day and we’re making about four and a half million pounds of sugar a day and about 80,000 gallons of molasses,” Kessler said in October, the beginning of the grind.
Photo: Sam Irwin, American Sugar Cane League