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Iberville Parish sugarcane farmers fill sandbags

When the Iberville Parish sandbag machine was failing to keep up with demand from residents during Hurricane Isaac, area sugarcane farmers stepped up to lend a hand.

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said sandbag demand was outstripping supply.

"We were inundated with requests for sandbags and we couldn’t keep up,” Ourso said.

The parish sandbagging machine can produce about 25-30 sandbags per minute, according to the Iberville Parish Government website. It takes 50-60 workers to match the sandbagging machine’s output.

Sugarcane farmer Mitchel J. Ourso Sr. of White Castle (no relation to the parish president) responded by sending 30 of his laborers to a White Castle fire station to help.

Mitchel J. Ourso Sr., who is also the White Castle representative on the Iberville Parish Council, said the hurricane idled his work force so sending a crew to help was a good thing to do.

"I sent some workers to help Wednesday with sandbags but we also helped with cleanup in the White Castle-Bayou Pigeon area Friday,” Ourso said.

Other area sugarcane farmers pitched in with labor and equipment to assist in the parish’s hurricane emergency response.

Cecil Ramagos Jr., Kenneth "Bo” Sandidge, Dale Purpera Sr. and Don Aucoin Jr., who farm under the Quad Ag Enterprise, L.L.C. name, sent a crew to the parish barn in Plaquemine for sandbag detail.

"The Sheriff’s Office called me Tuesday afternoon and asked if we could help out,” Ramagos said. "We had just finished planting cane and moving equipment when we got the call so we sent a crew Tuesday afternoon and again on Wednesday.”

Troy, Travis and Brad Canella of Plaquemine farm in the Brusly-Addis area but they sent a crew to pack sandbags as well.

Parish President Ourso praised the sugarcane farmers and their workers for their assistance.

"We couldn’t keep up with sandbagging but the sugarcane farmers came to the rescue,” Ourso said. "They really got us out of a bind.”

Ourso said he plans to formally recognize the farmers’ efforts at the next parish council meeting.

Sugarcane farmers are in the midst of planting sugarcane but have been dodging rainfall and now, a hurricane, to get their seed cane in the ground before sugar mill operations begin in mid-September.

Hurricane Isaac flattened the crop in some areas but farmers and other agricultural experts are optimistic that an exceptional crop can still be harvested.

"Hurricane Isaac was a mild storm as far as hurricanes go,” said Jim Simon, manager of the American Sugar Cane League. "What will really determine the ultimate success of the crop is harvesting conditions. If we have a dry harvest, then Isaac’s impact on the crop will be minimal.
Even if it’s a wet harvest, today’s harvesters can pick up the cane. However, it does add costs to the harvest.”

But there is no way to accurately assess the crop until harvesting and grinding are done, said Ken Gravois, LSU AgCenter’s sugarcane specialist.

"Cane is a resilient crop, which is why we grow it in south Louisiana,” Gravois said. "It can take the storms and still produce a pretty good crop, though the storm will increase planting and harvest costs.”

According the LSU AgCenter’s 2001 Ag Summary, the sugarcane crop is worth $1.1 billion and has an estimated economic impact of $3 billion to the state’s economy.

The American Sugar Cane League is a non-profit organization of Louisiana sugar cane growers and processors. Incorporated in 1922, the Louisiana sugar industry was, at that time, threatened with extinction by cane diseases.

The primary purpose of the organization at its inception was to provide the industry with an adequate research program to combat the decline of sugar cane yields.

Today, the League's main functions continue to be research, along with legislation, product promotion, education and public relations.


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