Jim Simon announced the plan at LSU AgCenter meetings in St. Martinville and Jeanerette for sugarcane farmers.
The school will be patterned after the LSU AgCenter Ag Leadership Program, and it could start by May. More than 40 people have expressed interest in attending, but class size will be limited, Simon said.
The idea came from farmers Ronald Hebert and Juan Sagrera and is based on a program conducted in the 1990s by Nicholls State University, he said. The league is working with the Louisiana Farm Bureau and the LSU AgCenter to develop the program.
The approximate cost will be $1,000, excluding lodging. It will involve five to eight three-day sessions on the LSU campus over eight months.
The coursework will focus on the science of crop production, immigration policy, sugar politics, environmental regulations, government programs and sugar industry history.
Simon also said the incoming administration’s policies appear to be in line with American sugarcane farmers. "It’s almost as though he opened the sugar playbook and started reading from it.”
The league is seeking to renegotiate sugar trade policy with Mexico, but the Trump administration’s desire to revisit NAFTA could also bring desired changes.
The selection of Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary would be good for sugar farmers because Perdue, a former Georgia governor, is familiar with Southern agriculture, Simon said.
But he said the choice of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama could be bad for the sugar industry because Sessions opposes foreign worker programs used by sugarcane farmers and sugar mills.
The recent cold snap may benefit this year’s sugarcane crop, said AgCenter plant pathologist Jeff Hoy. The cold weather could suppress brown rust disease.
"The likelihood is we’ll get by without having to spray fungicides,” Hoy said. Smut diseases may also be set back by the cold that dipped into the low to mid-20s, he said.
Mosaic disease has been found in low levels in some samples of the new variety HoCP 09-804, but the variety probably is safe to use, Hoy said. Mosaic was found in HoCP 09-804 variety in the Bayou Lafourche region and along the Mississippi River, but it was not detected in the Bayou Teche region.
The disease is from a virus spread by aphids in seed cane. It almost destroyed the Louisiana sugarcane industry in the 1920s, but the disease was eliminated with development of resistant sugarcane hybrids.
AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois said the high sugar recovery in the 2016 crop compensated for the low tonnage. The average sugar production of 246 pounds from each ton of cane set a record, topping the previous record of 232 pounds.
This year’s plant cane will suffer from last fall’s drought, he said.
New varieties to be released show promise. "I think there’s something to be excited about in the varieties coming down the pike,” Gravois said.
AgCenter economist Michael Deliberto said sugarcane production in Hawaii and Florida decreased, and imports were down by 19 percent last year. And Mexican imports were down 25 percent from a year ago.
The world price is increasing because of a global sugar deficit. Meanwhile, U.S. farmers are benefitting from a decrease in production costs with lower fuel and fertilizer prices, Deliberto said.
Jimmy Flanagan, AgCenter county agent in St. Mary Parish, said the new dicamba herbicide Engenia will provide more weed control. Farmers who intend to use the product will have to attend a workshop to learn about application of the product.
Tank cleaning will be a lengthy process, he warned. "There’s a strict protocol you will have to follow.”
Sugar Cane League agronomist Atticus Finger talked about the different varieties available to farmers.
Rich Johnson, agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said farmers should make sure their soil has a pH above 5 to make sure their crop is able to absorb nutrients. Johnson said studies have shown that testing has failed to show a consistent benefit of adding phosphorous to the soil.
USDA agronomist Paul White said the insecticide Cruiser used as a seed treatment can stimulate growth, but the seed treatment did not affect the total recoverable sugar in the 2016 plant cane crop. Cruiser is not labeled for use in sugarcane.
PHOTO CAPTION: LSU AgCenter economist Michael Deliberto presents the 2017 economic outlook to St. Martin, Lafayette and St. Landry parish sugarcane farmers. (Sam Irwin photo)