With the majority of sugar mills around the state processing their final loads of sugarcane, industry experts agree that the 2007 harvest yielded sweet results.
St.Martin/St. Landry/Lafayette County Agent Alfred Guidry said both the sugarcane tonnage and sugar yield for the harvested crop was greatly improved from previous years.
“For sugar per acre, this was the best crop we’ve ever had, “he said. “but in overall production it’s not, but that is because of a loss of acreage.”
Guidry reported that farmers at the Louisiana Sugarcane Cooperative (LaSUCA) procured an average of 34.5 tons of cane per acre with 213.74 pounds of sugar per ton. The previous year’s crop averaged 194 pounds per ton.
LaSUCA Member Relations Manager Jeff Broussard said this year’s harvest was better than average. “The weather was outstanding and the mill ran great,” he said. “If we have the same weather and more acres in the new varieties, I don’t see why we can’t have the same crop, or maybe better, next year.”
LaSUCA farmers had a record-breaking year in the overall tonnage column. For the first time in the cooperative’s 34-year span, farmers brought in over 1 million (1,034,100 to be exact) tons of cane for processing. The milestone was reached mostly by farmers receiving ideal weather conditions and by new productive cane varieties.
Broussard also noted that timely rains during the crop’s growing season helped to make for better-than-average yields.
“We had good weather from beginning to end,” Guidry said. “They (the farmers) enjoyed ideal weather for harvesting.”
Guidry said the current field conditions are ideal for future crop production. Farmers also have the weather to thank for this. With relatively dry harvesting conditions, farmers were able to extract their crops from the fields without damaging the land with their equipment.
“Barring any major weather problems, we should see an even better crop for next year.”
Jim Simon, American Sugar Cane League general manager, reported in July that he expected to see a strong harvest, weather permitting. Lo and behold, his premonitions were correct.
“We had a pretty good crop this year,” he said. “Not a record-setting year, but a good year.”
Simon reported that across Louisiana’s cane belt sugar yield per ton would be close to reaching record levels. He attributes this to beneficial weather.
“Farmers had favorable harvesting conditions for a very good harvest season,” Simon said.
Both Guidry and Simon spoke optimistically about new varieties that will reach production levels for the upcoming season. HoCP 96-540, the high-yielding forerunner, and L 99-226 and L 99-233 have been planted and harvested and will continue to expand in acreage and ostracize LCP 85-384. Guidry said only about 15 percent of sugarcane acreage will be in LCP 85-384.
“The varieties that we have on the horizon will show themselves with some increased yields,” Simon said.
Though the crop is harvested and this season’s numbers are higher than past years, farmers’ bottom lines will not rise very far. The current price of sugar is low according to Guidry. With the combination of slowly dropping sugar prices and farmers’ bills increasing, it will be hard for sugar producers to get by. So even with near record numbers for the 2007 crop, the economic struggle is not over.
“We can’t afford to have average crops anymore,” Guidry said. “Fuel and fertilizer are eating our lunch.”
Simon and his countless colleagues in the sugar industry have been vigilantly watching the progress of the Farm Bill for quite some time. The bill was passed by both the House and Senate and is now facing legislative conference committees.
According to the American Sugar Alliance Web site, America’s sugar producers are urging Congress to retain the current sugar policy because “has worked for taxpayers, grocery shoppers, farmers and America’s food security.”