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Solar Power, Farm Bill, Sugar Program Affects Louisiana Sugarcane

NEW ORLEANS – Landowners need to be very careful when approached by solar power developers and do their due diligence before signing on the dotted line, advised an energy expert attorney at the June 29 sugar commodity meeting at the 102nd Annual Louisiana Farm Bureau convention at the Marriott Hotel.

Only about 25 percent of all the proposed solar projects will ever come to fruition said Emory Belton, an energy attorney from Baton Rouge.

By Sam Irwin

“It may be two guys driving around in a truck looking to make a deal or it may be a legitimate energy company wanting to sign a long-term lease,” Belton said.

Belton noted that the Louisiana legislature passed legislation to regulate solar installations, but these regulations have not yet made it through the rule making process.  He cautioned that  landowners have to make certain that they completely understand these leases including how these facilities will be decommissioned at the end of their life. 

“Landowners have been making mineral deals for a long time and expect the solar operators to have the same kind of leases, but they are not the same. The initial solar leases offered are some operators are really bad deals for landowners,” Belton cautioned.

He said that Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene, whose district is the largest sugarcane district in the state, is not seeking reelection.  He urged sugarcane farmers and landowners to make their concerns about renewable energy projects known to the candidates running for the open seat. He also advised farmers to make their concerns know to Governor Jeff Landry. 

“Solar farms only create about one permanent job per 1,000 acre project,” Belton added.

Dr. Kurt Guidry of the LSU AgCenter provided an analysis of the revenue that will be lost to sugar farmers and millers if land is taken out of production and put into renewable energy projects. A more detailed presentation of “Sugarcane Acres under Solar Energy Attack – Analysis – The Value of Sugarcane Acres” is available at

Barbara Fecso, the branch chief of the Farm Production and Conservation office of the United States Department of Agriculture, oversees the federal sugar program and spoke about the various economic factors that affect sugar prices. She said sugar prices have tended to be high over the last few years because of higher world prices resulting from lower world production including Mexico.

“We try to project what their production is going to be but right now it’s expected to be less than five million tons,” Fecso said. “That puts a pressure on supply so we must be careful in using the tools we have to help balance the market. Mexico tried to make higher quality, higher priced sugar to sell in their market, but the buyers went to Brazil to buy cheaper sugar. We’re always guessing what the Mexican market will do. We try to keep our stock-to-use ratio at 13.5 to 15.5 percent and ask ourselves when we should use our tools to help balance the market. We don’t necessarily want to ask a farmer to accept a lower price for the sake of artificially balancing the market. It’s not an easy task.”

The American Sugar Cane League’s  Jim Simon and retired sugar executive Jackie Theriot recognized Farm Bureau executive Brian Breaux’s 44 years of service. Breaux has worn many hats but is an expert in federal labor rules.

Simon also cited some provisions in the sugar safety net in the proposed farm bill that will raise the sugar loan rate from 19.75 cents to 24 cents.

“The House Ag Committee made an important commitment to sugar and we hope to get it passed before the end of this congress,” Simon said.


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