With grinding a few weeks underway, early indicators are that local sugar-cane farmers will have a good season.
Herman Waguespack, senior agronomist for the Thibodaux-based American Sugar Cane League, said most growers he’s talked to have had a positive season so far. However, some still haven’t finished planting.
Although recent storms dumped several inches of rain locally, Waguespack said the area was fortunate not to bear the brunt of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
"Good yields on tonnage and good yields for sugar have everyone really optimistic at this point,” he said. "Sugar content is above average. We’re running above our five-year average, and that has everything to do with good harvest weather. Prices are about what they were last year. Tonnage is above last year. Last year we had a really dry period, and the cane didn’t weigh very much.”
Slattery McCollam, who farms in the Schriever and Thibodaux areas, began planting in late August. He said Thursday that he was about 95 percent done and hoped to finish by Saturday.
"We’ve had a couple of really rough days with the rain,” he said. "Everything south of Labadieville has gotten significant rain. Everything north of Labadieville has been dry. We’ve had our share and their share. We don’t need any more.”
McCollam sends half of his cane to Raceland Raw Sugar and the other half to Lafourche Sugars in Thibodaux.
"We’ve only cut our oldest stubble,” he said. "It’s looking OK. It’s not anything to write home about yet. I’m hoping it improves. The sugar’s been decent. I’m about four tons better per acre than last year.”
Grinding began the last week of September at Raceland Raw Sugar and the first week of October at Lafourche Sugars.
Representatives for the two mills weren’t available for comment today.
Gary Gravois farms in Napoleonville and sends his cane to Westfield Sugar Factory in Paincourtville. He said he finished planting in mid-September and is pleased with this year’s crop so far.
"I wasn’t expecting it to be this good,” he said. "The tonnage is three or four tons to the acre better than last year. The sugar is about the same, maybe a little better.”
Gravois has had the opposite of McCollam’s problem.
"We really could use some rain right now,” he said. "It’s been all around us. We just keep getting it in the same spots and not getting it where we need it.”
According to the American Sugar Cane League, the sugar industry has an annual economic impact of about $2 billion to growers and raw sugar factories and generates an overall economic value of about $3 billion.
Louisiana produces about 13 million tons of cane on more than 400,000 acres in 22 parishes, according to the league.
According to the 2016 LSU agriculture summary, there were 22 sugar-cane producers in Lafourche Parish and eight in Terrebonne Parish last year. There were 25,000 acres of sugar cane in Lafourche and 8,800 in Terrebonne.
Waguespack encouraged drivers to be cautious and patient with tractors and sugar-cane trucks on the road.
"Sometimes it can be a pain, but it’s a necessary part of the industry,” he said.