Judging by the first 10 to 15 percent of sugar cane that has made its way to the sugar mills this season, things are looking good for the fall harvest.
Photo: Raw sugar loaded into a Bayou Teche barge from Cajun Sugar Mill (Sam Irwin-American Sugar Cane League)
Mills began running in the Teche Area within the first couple weeks of October, said Blair Hebert, the Iberia Parish Extension Agent for the LSU Agriculture Center. Some had delays and slow starts, he said, but they are all running now.
"They’re all up now. Everyone is bringing in at least a little bit,” Hebert said.
Hebert said weather conditions early this year have so far been comparable to last year, despite the absence of a flooding event as major as August of last year.
"We did not have that huge rain event, but we’ve had a lot of rain,” he said. "Despite it all through, planting seems to be going well.”
He said the two main factors determining a productive crop — tonnage and recoverable sugar — are, so far, "very respectable.”
The bottom line for the farmer, Hebert said, is the pounds of sugar derived per acre. Last year, that amounted to 31.8 tons per acre, according to documents from the AgCenter, which was down by 1.4 tons per acre from the previous year. Average raw sugar recovery was just below 13 percent, or 246 pounds of sugar per ton of cane — up almost 30 pounds from 2015. In Iberia Parish, 7,296 pounds of commercially recoverable sugar were produced per acre in 2016.
"The sugar is good and the tonnage is okay right now,” Hebert said. "That may reverse in November,” when the weather drops, but so far, he said, he anticipates a good crop.
Sugar cane farmer Juan Segura, of Segura Farms of New Iberia, agreed it looks like a very good crop this year, with healthy numbers across the board, but had a slightly more optimistic picture of his tonnage.
"It’s still very early, but where we’re at now, it looks like the tonnage is better than average for this time of year,” Segura said.
He estimated his tonnage was up probably three to four tons above average for mid-October. He said he’s been averaging about 210 pounds of sugar per ton of cane.
"The weather conditions are really good right now. We’ve got good, dry air, so that’s helping with sugar content,” said Segura. "It’s still very early, we’ve got a long ways to go. But so far it’s looking like everything early on is looking really good.”
And beyond Iberia Parish and the Teche Area, sugar crops seem to be strong across the state.
"In terms of total sugar production (across Louisiana), this crop is starting off to be a good crop,” said James Simon, General Manager of the American Sugar Cane League. "We’re starting in pretty good conditions, and growers are making good progress getting into the crop. It’s a pretty good crop, we’ve just got to hope this good weather continues and there are no premature, early freezes. We’re doing OK.