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Local importance of sugarcane goes back many decades - - 9/9/2015 -

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"The sugar industry of Louisiana for nearly a century now is the dominant industry of the state. The present higher prices for cotton now make it a close competitor for leadership. Louisiana has become the chief rice producing state of the union, and the total value of the rice crop makes it one of our most conspicuous assets.

"Our crops of corn, oats, hay and vegetables are all assuming greater proportions every year, but still the sugar crop, owing to its concentration within comparatively few parishes of the state, the magnitude of the sugar factories and to the large amounts of capital necessary to carry on cane culture and sugar manufacture, make it the most conspicuous, if not actually the leading industry of our state.

This assessment of the local importance of sugar cane was written by John Dymond, and was reprinted in the Louisiana Planter from the Sept. 1, 1906, New Orleans Picayune.

It was especially true of Terrebonne and neighboring parishes, where virtually all business was conducted on credit throughout the year, with bills being paid from the influx of capital at the sale of sugar after "rolling season. Thus everyone was interested in the week-to-week status of the sugar season.

The same issue of the Planter reprinted a review of the prospects for the 1906 sugar crop in Terrebonne Parish:

"Mr. Henry Harlan, who has the reputation of being one of the best plantation managers in this parish, has just returned from a tour of the entire parish. Mr. Harlan's knowledge of cane raising having made him fully competent to judge the condition of the cane crop, the Courier requested him to give his opinion of the Terrebonne crop as it appears at present.

"Mr. Harlan says: On Myrtle Grove plantation of Barrow & Duplantis, the crop is very good with the exception of the second year's stubble, which is rather thin in stand and backward in size.

"On Presquille plantation the crop is fine with the exception of the succession plant cane, which is not exactly up in size. The crop has been thoroughly cultivated and the prospects are fine for a good output.

"Prom Presquille on down on Bayou Terrebonne the crops as a rule are good, and there is no evidence that there will be a shortage in the yield in that section of the parish. On Little Caillou the crop is probably slightly ahead of the Bayou Terrebonne crop, in stand and point of size, which shows a satisfactory condition of affairs on that bayou.

"On the whole of Grand Caillou if there is a bad crop Mr. Harlan says that he failed to see it, and the same thing can be said about Bayou DuLarge. The crops on the Marmande plantation, Bayou DuLarge and McCollam & Cocke's Bull Run plantation, Chacahoula, are the finest that Mr. Harlan has seen this year. On upper Bayou Black the crop compares very well with the average crop, and on Greenwood plantation. Lower Bayou Black, the cane on the front, Mr. Harlan says, is the best he has ever seen on that plantation.

"Altogether, Mr. Harlan says, there seems no reason why the planters should complain of this year's crop, and considering the long drought, during the spring and early summer, when there were seventy days of dry weather. Mr. Harlan thinks that the 1906 crop in Terrebonne is exceptionally good.

Harlan's report was first printed in the Sept. 1, 1906, Houma Courier.

Unfortunately, existing microfilm of the Courier does not include any issues from 1906.

Dymond's assessment of the 1906 sugar industry concluded with a comparison to the enterprise before the Civil War:

"In 1861 there were probably more acres in sugar cane than today. The industry was considered to be in a very satisfactory condition, the sugar plantations generally in a high state of improvement, the labor supply adequate and the industry profitable and a pronounced success.

"With the annihilation of the sugar industry by the civil war and its very slow recovery and the floods and continued crevasses in the levees, even after their temporary restoration, made the sugar planter's career a very checkered one.

"Supreme efforts were then made to rehabilitate the levee system, to prevent the frequent crevasses and to put the industry upon a surer foundation. A series of levee conventions were called by Governor McEnery, in 1881 or 1882; levee districts were created and a general recovery began at about that time.

"What we have lost in the efficiency of labor as compared with antebellum conditions is now largely compensated for with our modern agricultural machinery, which enables sugar planters to do with mule power what formerly required a large amount of hand work.

"Another and distinct progress that we have made is the wonderful advance in the manufacturing side of the sugar cane industry. The gradual improvement in our sugar machinery and increasing strength of our cane mills and the greater care exercised all along the line to prevent waste have resulted in a gradual increase in the average production per ton of cane.

In the century since, the local economy shifted to the oil patch, with Terrebonne losing its last two refineries, at Southdown and at Montegut, and vast tracts for former sugar cane fields, replaced by subdivisions.

 Bill Ellzey

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