While many were opening presents Christmas morning, sugar-cane farmer Ronnie Waguespack was in the field bright and early.
Despite a few days of rain, this grinding season was relatively dry. That reflects on the sugar content, Waguespack said, as farmers sent less mud to the mills.
Waguespack, who farms in Thibodaux and various parts of Terrebonne Parish, sends all of his cane to Raceland Raw Sugar. He said the tonnage was off by about 2 percent, but the sugar content was much higher than last year.
"The price of sugar is just a hair bit higher than what it was last year, so we ought to be all right," he said. "We're probably going to see 26 cents, maybe 26 1/2 cents. We're holding our heads above water. We're not going to get rich, but we'll pay our bills and put a few dollars in our pockets."
According to the Thibodaux-based American Sugar Cane League, sugar cane is produced on more than 400,000 acres in 22 parishes. Louisiana produces about 13 million tons of cane a year and about 1.4 million tons of raw sugar.
Grinding season got started Oct. 3, but rain held back some farmers.
Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, said about four mills were still running as of late last week.
"This has been a decent season," he said. "The tonnage of sugar cane per acre was down a little bit, but the cane stalks themselves had very high sugar content. I think that's going to be the story of 2016: low tonnage, but high sugar."
Bobby Gravois, who farms in the Thibodaux and Chackbay areas, said the season went well. He estimated he sends about 70 percent of his crop to Raceland Raw Sugar and 30 percent to Lafourche Sugars in Thibodaux.
"We start planting in early August, and we like to be finished around Labor Day," he said. "This year it didn't happen. The planting was delayed some. We had to harvest the cane and also plant when the harvest started."
Gravois said this year's sugar content was above average, with about 220 pounds of sugar per ton of cane.
"It's usually maybe around 200, 205," he said. "The tons per acre, it was in the 30s. … About 25 cents a pound (of sugar) right now, which is pretty good. We've gotten higher than that, and we've also gotten in the teens – 18, 19 cents. So 25 cents is good."
He said it seemed like motorists respected cane trucks for the most part, and he thanked the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office for doing its part to keep the roads safe.
Waguespack will be harvesting until Jan. 2.
"It's definitely a lot of hard work, and we put a lot of money into this crop," he said. "You do the best job you can do, and at the end of the year, you just hope everything worked out well and you were successful. Maybe 20, 25 years ago, with the crop of cane we had this year and the sugar content we had, we'd have made money. But in today's world, with the increase in the production costs, the profit margin is slim. You've got to have it in your blood, and you've got to love it."
Photo caption: Sugarcane preparing to go through a grinding system deasinged to squeeze maximum cane juice from the stalk. Photo by Sam Irwin/American Sugar Cane League.
Daily Comet report by Bridget Mire
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