Sugar cane is harvested on the Willis Provost farm near Kaplan. Growers report increased tonnage per acre this year, and mill operators are pleased with the sugar recovery.
Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

Cane harvest is living up to expectations

NEW IBERIA -- The 2017 Louisiana sugar cane crop is meeting expectations as the harvest approaches the halfway point.

“Tonnage is good, and sugar recovery is good,” said LSU AgCenter sugar cane specialist Kenneth Gravois. “For both of them to be good in the same year is rare. Everybody is really pleased.”

Last year, sugar recovery was high, setting a record, but tonnage was down.

Last year’s state record sugar recovery of 246 pounds of sugar per ton of sugar cane harvested was 14 pounds higher than the previous record. This year’s sugar recovery is 241 pounds so far, but that could increase, Gravois said.

“The first part of the harvest is the oldest cane, so now we’re getting into better land and a younger crop,” he said.

Farmers are cutting around 35 tons of cane per acre, he said, compared to last year’s state average of 31.8 tons.

This year’s price is about the same as last year, he said.

Farmers in some areas started harvesting in late September when their mills started grinding, but most started after Oct. 1.

Some areas have received heavy rain that made harvest more difficult, but most have had dry weather that has helped farmers get their crop out of the fields with fewer maintenance problems. The 11 mills in the state wrapped up harvest before New Year’s in 2016, but Gravois said this year’s harvest will extend past Jan. 1.

“Looks like we’ve got a good crop,” said Blair Hebert, AgCenter agent in Iberia Parish, adding that farmers in his area are reporting a good harvest.

“Things seem to be going as smoothly as they can,” he said.

Dry weather has allowed farmers to get in and out of the fields without creating ruts in the soil that would damage stubble and affect next year’s crop, requiring field work, Hebert said.

Farmer Willis Provost, of New Iberia, said he’s pleased with the crop. “Things are in our favor this year,” he said

Mike Hebert, AgCenter agent in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, said the harvest has gone well so far with farmers not quite half finished. “We have had really good harvest conditions,” he said.

This year’s yields seem to be better than those in 2016. “It appears our tonnage is about 3 to 4 tons heavier than last year, with good sugar,” he said.

Rainfall at planting caused problems for some farmers, and it delayed harvest. “I have some growers who planted cane last week,” Mike Hebert said.

The increased tonnage could result in a longer grinding season. “The heavier cane just compounds the problem, but it’s a good problem,” he said.

Al Orgeron, AgCenter extension agent in St. James Parish and regional pest management specialist, said growers on the east side of the Mississippi River are benefitting from ideal harvest conditions. Some farmers could end up having their best crop, he said.

“It’s been a fantastic year,” Orgeron said. “We have a great crop tonnage-wise, and the sugar recovery has been fantastic.”

Tonnage is running about 5 to 10 tons higher than last year in Orgeron’s area. Last year’s harvest benefitted from dry conditions that prevented heavy rutting of fields that would have hurt this year’s crop, Orgeron said. The warm spring helped start the cane growing, and a warm

September gave the crop a late-season boost.

Donna Morgan, LSU AgCenter agent in Rapides Parish, said 45 to 50 percent of the crop in her area has been harvested. “Preliminary yields are above average, with some as high as 36 tons an acre, and sugar content has been excellent,” she said.

Dry weather has kept the cane free of mud and debris when it goes to the mills, she said.

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