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Whistle a sign of cane harvest, big crop for south Louisiana - Daily Comet (Thibodaux, La.) - 10/26/2015 -

Daily CometFrom cane trucks to cane field stubble signs grinding season has started are everywhere, but there's one that can only be heard and its distinctive sound on a crisp day can carry on a northerly wind for miles.

The Lafourche Sugars mill at 141 Leighton Quarters Road in Thibodaux blows a steam whistle at dawn to signal the start of morning shift, twice in the afternoon for lunch and twice in the evening for the day shift's end.

It's a throwback from the days workers lived in quarters on the mill property, said Gus Legendre, who retired as the mill's chief engineer last year and is the son of the late Irving Legendre Sr. and brother of the late Irving Legendre Jr., both of whom served in succession as the mill's president and general manager.

For a couple of weeks last season, the bayou paddlewheel whistle repurposed at a time well beyond memory was broken, said current General Manager Greg Nolan, and the absence of its plaintive wail such as a person might hear on the Mississippi River prompted phone calls urging the mill to repair it.

"We set our clocks by it, Nolan said he was told.

So they did.

The first whistle signaling the start of the mill's 2015 season blew earlier this month. Lafourche Sugars, one of 11 mills in the state and one of two in Lafourche Parish, turns cane juice into raw sugar and molasses.

Bagasse, the fiber left after the cane juice is extracted, is used as fuel for the steam that powers mill operations. Water is recycled and filter mud, a byproduct of cane-milling, is trucked back out to the cane fields. The majority of the raw sugar produced is sent to the Gramercy-based Louisiana Sugar Refining, a joint venture of Louisiana Sugar Growers and Refinery Inc. and Cargill.

Trucks that can carry up to 30 tons of sugar cane deliver from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for 32 farms in Ascension, Assumption, Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. John, St. James, St. Mary and Iberia parishes. The mill, which operates 24 hours a day, every day until December, grinds 6,000-6,500 tons of cane through the night.

Over a 24-hour period, it grinds about 13,000 tons, which yields 3 million pounds of sugar.

As of the beginning of last week, 10 to 15 percent of the fields in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes had been harvested, Lafourche Parish Extension Agent Mike Hebert said. Eleven varieties of cane are being used on acreage that numbers 27,000 in Lafourche and 9,000 in Terrebonne. While the crops could use an inch to an inch and a half of rain, Hebert said, dry conditions mean less mud on the cane at mill delivery.

Rainless days have also enabled farmers to begin harvesting from clay soils with little complication. If clay, which holds water, is wet, tractors and other large harvesting equipment can get stuck.

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