The relatively dry weather forecast this week was exactly what sugar-cane farmers needed.
Story by Emma Discher, Daily Comet (Thibodaux)
The planting season has been "very rough,” according to Thibodaux-based American Sugar Cane League Senior Agronomist Herman Waguespack, because of the unusually wet weather. Now the harvest season is beginning.
Farms have multiple years of crop growing at once, but most don’t have the manpower or equipment to both plant and harvest at the same time.
"We would normally be finished with the planting process with the harvest season right around the corner,” Waguespack said. "We’re probably only, I don’t know, maybe 70 percent complete statewide. I don’t know if we’re even 15 percent complete in the Thibodaux and Lafourche area. We might be 15 to 20 percent there. They are by far the furthest behind across the state.”
Mark Naquin who owns a farming machine company and farms sugar cane in Thibodaux said he is about 25 percent done with planting.
"If the rain continues and we don’t plant 100 percent of the acreage, it means we have less for next season,” Naquin said. "We missed our early planting. Early planting has higher yields and higher sugar content.”
Sugar mills are starting to open this week starting with the second largest, Cora Texas Sugar Factory in White Castle, opening Thursday. Raceland Raw Sugar opens on Sept. 30 and Lafourche Sugar opens on Oct. 4.
Waguespack said some of the local mills moved back their start dates, but he still doesn’t think there will be enough time.
"The other thing is that the crop appears to be a good potential for the crop,” Waguespack said. "You don’t want to jeopardize that by delaying harvest too much. The growers have to plant because they need that planting to be able to operate next year and the following year.”
Sugar cane crops come back for a few years as "stubble” plants, which are then harvested again.
"We’re just so dependent on Mother Nature,” Waguespack said.
The lack of a winter freeze and a warm spring helped the cane planted last September and to be harvested now. Sugar cane is a tropical crop, so ideal growing conditions are hot and wet weather, but not standing water.
Because Naquin sells a lot of equipment for cultivation and planting sugar cane, his sales fluctuate with the state of the crop. Right now he says things are good.
"We’re doing quite well,” Naquin said. "We have orders for next year. We’ve been blessed. I’m not saying it’s not a struggle. It’s an everyday struggle.”
According to the American Sugar Cane League, 22 Louisiana parishes produce sugar cane on more than 400,000 acres of land. The industry has an economic impact of $2.7 billion to the state’s economy annually. CONTINUE READING AT THE DAILY COMET