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Holiday Rituals

Louisiana sugarcane farmers and millers work with urgency through the holidays to get the crop to the mill. Photo by Sally Ramagos

Thanksgiving heralded in the holiday season and most folks will be celebrating the traditional autumn rituals by expressing gratitude for their good fortune.

Part of Louisiana’s fall tradition is the sugarcane harvest which is proceeding as it often does through December and into January. It’s 100+ days straight of harvesting, trucking and milling cane 24-7 until it is all made into raw sugar. It’s hard work. Producers do not have the luxury of taking a day off during harvest because the perishable crop needs to be brought in a safe, and timely manner.

Everything seems regular about the harvest, but this growing season has been anything but normal. Very little rain fell on the crop during the summer and growth was affected in some areas more than others. The current United States drought monitor shows the entire cane belt is in extreme drought.

What does that mean for the sugar harvest? Through the first four weeks of harvesting, tonnage is down but sugar yields are above our five-year and 14-year average. Despite the drought and the concerns that go along with that, Louisiana’s sugar producers are working overtime to bring in the crop.

We have more sugarcane acreage planted than ever before. The United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency noted we had an additional 21,000 sugarcane acres planted than last year. It’s the eighth straight year we’ve had acreage expansion in the cane belt. The 533,731 acres devoted to cane is the largest ever for Louisiana. That’s 833 square miles of cane. Most of the additional acreage was expanded in Vermilion, Pointe Coupee and Avoyelles parishes.

A healthy 24 percent of the total acreage is in third and older stubble primarily due to the ratooning ability of the L 01-299 variety. The L means the variety was developed at the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center. LSU is part of the three-way research alliance between the university, United States Department of Agriculture and the American Sugar Cane League. The variety development program we have created is the envy of the sugarcane world and a big reason for Louisiana’s continued success as sugar producers.

Despite the increase in acreage, drought has reduced stalk weight so lower tonnage is being realized.  The state’s 11 sugar mills estimate they will grind significantly fewer tons of cane this season, but lower tonnage is being partially offset by higher sugar per ton yields.

Farming is a demanding profession but it’s also a rewarding one. Louisiana’s sugarcane farmers are a tough bunch. They are experienced farm and factory managers but wiser money managers. They take the steps necessary to keep the tractors running and the mills grinding. Our sugar producers are dedicated to producing a safe, essential and affordable food ingredient for millions of Americans. Ultimately, they have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

This December, when you are sitting down for your holiday meals, say a special prayer for your sugarcane farmers and millers. Sugarcane farming is not one single person…it’s a family affair…and the whole family is involved in making sure the crop gets harvested. The sugarcane farming families will be working on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Like most professions, there is a sacrifice to be made when one is performing a critical job, and our sugar farmers will be giving thanks from the cane headlands.
To celebrate the holidays and our sugar producers why not bake a pecan pie using cane syrup? Here’s a pecan pie recipe that is a perennial favorite:

Cane Syrup Pecan Pie

  • 1 cup cane syrup
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans
  • 1 (9-inch) unbaked OR frozen deep-dish pie crust

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place rimmed cookie sheet on the center rack in oven while preheating. Mix cane syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust or frozen pie crust.
Carefully place pie on the preheated cookie sheet on the center rack of oven and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. Cool for two hours on wire rack before serving.
RECIPE TIPS: Pie is done when center reaches 200°F. Tap center surface of pie lightly – it should spring back when done. For easy clean up, spray pie pan with cooking spray before placing pie crust in pan. If pie crust is overbrowning, cover edges with foil.

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