It’s been a while since Louisiana cane farmer Thomas Viator felt this good about his crop and the prospects of fetching a good price when the sugar is harvested at the end of this year.
A mild winter and rain that has tapered down to just enough has his cane looking good. Even better, though, is a consumer market that’s veering from ingesting genetically modified foods.
And in this case, that means sugar cane’s main rival — northern-grown, genetically modified sugar beets —is falling out of favor with consumers.
"There is a demand in the market for sugar that is produced from non-GMO (genetically modified organism) sources,” said Jim Simon, president of the Thibodaux-based American Sugar Cane League.
"It is providing some benefit for us,” Simon said. "I don’t know if it’s going to be long term.”
Grown in Minnesota, North Dakota, Colorado and other far-north states, sugar beets are grown from seeds implanted with a gene that makes it resistant to the weed killer glyphosate, commercially marketed as RoundUp. Although the beet’s sugar is deemed safe by experts, there’s been a consumer shift away from GMO foods.
Food companies have reacted. In 2015 Hershey Co., one of the biggest buyers of U.S. sugar, stopped purchasing sugar produced from the beet.
Simon said there were efforts tried years ago to grow sugar beets in Louisiana, but the climate here is too harsh.
"We’ve got too many diseases and fungi in the soil, and the summers are too wet to grow beets,” he said. "They tested some (beets) and tried some, but never any commercial production.”
Although the current consumer reaction against genetically modified beets is increasing demand somewhat for sugar extracted from cane, Simon said, it’s really the total supply of sugar that affects the price. READ MORE