The sugarcane industry has remained sustainable in Louisiana for more than 200 years. Thanks to progressive attitudes among the cane producers and millers who banded together in 1922 to form the American Sugar Cane League, the industry has expanded to record acreage, tonnage and raw sugar production in the 21st century.
By Jim Simon,
American Sugar Cane League
The League’s involvement in governmental relations has led to a strong domestic sugar policy and stable prices. The stable market has proved attractive to Louisiana farmers and the industry has seen unprecedented growth in acreage in Vermilion, Pointe Coupee, Avoyelles, Rapides, and Concordia parishes.
The American Sugar Cane League, comprised of sugarcane farmers and millers, has been committed to research and decades of hard work has paid off with record increases in sugar production. The reason for this success is twofold: about half of the increased sugar yield is due to improved breeding and field operations, while the other half is due to factory improvements.
This expansion of acreage was created by the confidence in the basic breeding variety program created by the United States Department of Agriculture scientists in the late 1950s. The fruits of this research led to the release of the legendary cane variety LCP 85-384 in 1993 followed by the more recent HoCP 96-540 in 2003 and L 01-299 in 2009. Two new varieties were released in 2021 while potential varieties are in the breeding pipelines at the LSU AgCenter and USDA Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma.
But increased sugarcane production could not be possible without increased milling and sugar recovery techniques. The industry could be limited by how much cane tonnage a sugar mill could handle, but for the last five decades, the milling sector has expanded its capacity despite a reduction in the number of milling factories from 43 in 1970 to 11 in 2022. Research supported by the Audubon Sugar Institute (founded in 1891 as part of the Louisiana Sugar Experiment Station in New Orleans’ Audubon Park) has led to improved sugar recovery methods.
Employing efficiencies of scale models, Louisiana’s sugarcane mills, Enterprise Factory in Patoutville; St. Mary Sugar Co-op in Jeanerette; Sterling Sugars, Franklin; Alma Plantation, Lakeland; Cora-Texas Manufacturing Co., White Castle; Louisiana Sugar Cane Co-Op (LASUCA), St. Martinville; Cajun Sugar Co., New Iberia; Lafourche Sugars Corporation, Thibodaux; Raceland Raw Sugar Corporation, Raceland; Lula Sugar Factory, Belle Rose; and Westfield Sugar Factory, Paincourtville, expanded their milling capacity up to a record 16.8 million tons in 2018.
Harold Birkett of the Audubon Sugar Institute said the largest improvements in sugar recovery are attributable to the improvements in cane preparation and milling.
“Cane preparation has improved with the installation of heavy-duty knives and shredders,” Birkett said. “Factories have improved milling by installing Donnelly chutes with under-feed fourth rolls and by keeping the mills rough by welding on the mill rolls throughout the crop. Some factories have installed larger mills and some use perforated rolls to improve juice drainage. Imbibition rates have nearly doubled and contributed to increased sugar recovery.”
What it means is those techniques have allowed factory grinding rates to increase considerably from about 130 tons per hour to 620 tons. Sugar recovery also increased from 163 pounds sugar per ton of cane to 230 pounds. As mentioned earlier, increased sugar recovery is due to improved breeding and field operations and factory improvements.
The Louisiana sugarcane industry, as represented by the American Sugar Cane League, continues to support sugarcane with research, governmental and public relations and will remain a home-grown economic driver for years to come.