If it’s September in south Louisiana, a lot of wonderful traditions are taking place. There is football season, of course! Also, who doesn’t love the beginning of gumbo weather? And don’t forget the sugarcane harvest.
This is the time that the beautiful sweet stalks of sugarcane across the sugar belt are harvested and trucked to the mills.For folks who grew up in Louisiana, the September through December sugarcane harvest has a familiar set of sights, sounds and smells. Some of us are lucky enough to have wonderful childhood memories of the excitement of the harvest, of chewing on a chunk of cane and standing by the road to watch the loaded trucks rumble by, and plumes of steam billowing from the sugar mills in the fall air. Traditionally, the harvest means jobs, economic activity for our communities and a successful end of a year’s hard work.
If you’re not a sugarcane farmer, you might not realize how important safety is at this time of the year. Goal number one for these Louisiana farmers is to safely harvest and transport their crop to the mill. After all, how can we celebrate the fruit of our labors if someone is hurt in the process?
You, the public, are a vital part of this tradition. When you are out driving during this sugarcane season, it is important to be aware of safety around slow moving cane wagons and harvest sites.
The farmers do their part. They make every effort to keep their operations running smoothly and safely. Sugarcane farmers know that not following proper safety procedures can be dangerous and costly. They know safety. Farmers and millers want the rest of us to know safety too, so that we can all make sure a happy harvest season is had by all.
Cane trucks will be on farm-to-market roads in force this season. We’re expecting a good harvest and the sugar mills will be steaming 24-7 to grind all planted cane before a killing frost hits the state.
In some locations, sugarcane is transported in large truck/trailer rigs. The trucks are driven by professional drivers trained in following the rules of the road. Sugarcane trucks handle like any other 18-wheelers that carry groceries, gasoline, chemicals or grain. They make wide turns. They start slowly and take up a lot of space. If a car is following a big truck too closely, it’s difficult for the truck driver to see the vehicle in their rear-view mirrors.
And while more and more farming and milling operations are using truck/trailer combos to haul sugarcane, there are still many farmers who use their tractors to pull a load to the mill.
We all know that a tractor is a slow moving vehicle. It’s not fun to get stuck behind a tractor wagon filled to the brim with sugarcane on a narrow farm-to-market road. This is when all of us need be patient and exercise the utmost caution.
I was recently talking about this subject with Louisiana State Police Trooper Stephen Hammons of Troop I, which covers Iberia, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Landry, Evangeline, Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia parishes.
Farmers try their best to use the least traveled farm-to-market roads; however, there may be times when the only alternative is to use busy highways like U.S. 90.
"Tractors can still use U.S. 90 to haul cane,” he said. "So drivers need to pay attention and be aware of driving conditions 10 to 15 seconds up the highway.”
We’re coming to the time of year when fog begins to form in the early morning. Visibility will be decreased. The fall back to Standard Time will also occur soon and the skies darkened at five p.m.
Trooper Hammons reminds us that all motorists are required to slow down during bad weather, but he also said that farmers are required to have signs on the road indicating that trucks are entering the highway.
Don’t mar the excitement and bounty of the harvest season by getting in an accident. In other words, be prepared to stop or slow down if you see a cane truck or tractor up the road ahead of you.
Farmers and millers strive to be good neighbors. They are concerned about the public’s safety, but sugarcane farmers will harvest in the rain and wet fields. There may be instances where you’ll find muddy conditions on a farm-to-market road. If you come across mud on a highway or any other hazardous driving conditions, please call the Louisiana State Police at *LSP (*577) with the location. A State Trooper will be dispatched to make sure motorists are driving safely and the conditions are corrected.
So, when you’re stuck behind a slow moving cane truck and you’re trying to get home from work, or pick up the kids from school, dance class or football practice, remember Trooper Hammons’ safety message: observe warning signs, keep your attention focused on driving conditions ten seconds up the highway and slow down. It’s better to arrive safely than not to arrive at all.
Driving tips for busy people
1. Leave a few minutes early
2. Slow down - be a little more patient
3. Report muddy conditions
4. Look for harvest sight road signs
5. Keep a keen eye out for slow moving vehicles