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Sugarcane harvest underway

The 2022-23 Louisiana sugarcane harvest is in full swing now and most everyone in the industry is feeling optimistic for a good harvest.

Sugarcane acreage increased again this year. In 2021, 469,000 acres were harvested but this season about 475,000 acres are expected to go to the state’s 11 sugar mills. This is the fifth straight year that cane acreage has increased. Why? The farmers and millers of the American Sugar Cane League have invested in research conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma, the LSU AgCenter farms in St. Gabriel and New Iberia and the Audubon Sugar Institute, also in St. Gabriel. This collective research has developed cane varieties well-suited for Louisiana’s unique climate and better harvesting and milling technology. On the political front, the League’s efforts in promoting a strong national sugar policy has led to stable prices that makes it easier for a producer to plan long term.

But even with the continual scientific and technological improvements, weather will still play a critical role in the 2022 season. It’s been an odd year. 2021 had record rainfall, but by the spring of 2022, most of the state was in drought conditions. While that made for great fieldwork opportunities, farmers weren’t that concerned about growth, but by mid-summer, it appeared stalk growth was lagging behind the norm.

Just as the August planting season rolled around, the rain returned and hampered planting activities. Farmers planned to bring in additional workers to help them with the chore but rain severely curtailed planting plans. On the other hand, the rain allowed the crop to “catch up” and stalk growth was phenomenal in the late summer. Fortunately, by mid-September, the rain slowed enough for producers to finish planting and the serious work of harvesting has now begun in full force.

But there is another weather caveat. In the past, sugar mills were generally finished grinding cane by Christmas, but the increased acreage has pushed finishing dates into mid-January. That means there is a chance of a killing freeze.

On the optimistic side, if everything goes well, we are projected to cut 16.6 million tons of cane which should produce in the neighborhood of 1.6 million tons of raw sugar. So far, harvesting conditions have been optimal but things will get wetter as we move into December.

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