Sugar Cane: Weather Hurts Sweet Crop

THIBODUAX, LA (AP) — Even as the price of sugar cane begins to rise, farmers and industry officials expect an average year for the crop due to unsteady weather conditions this year.

         Sugar mills across the state are cranked up as the beginning of the grinding season is underway.

         Jim Simon, president of the Thibodaux-based American Sugar Cane League, tells The Daily Comet’s Jacob Batte early results have proven sweet.

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         "The sugar content is good, but we're still trying to figure out what the tonnage of the crop is going to be," he said.

         Though the weather had been a concern for most of the year, the "nice dry start certainly lends itself in a nice way to start the harvest."

         But Mother Nature is to blame for what is expected to be an average crop, Simon said.

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         While farmers hope for a dry spring and wet summer, they got the opposite. Simon said a dry June and July stunted the crops' growth. But a week or so of rain in August helped turn around the crops.

         "Cane is tough. It can take a hurricane or drought. Of course you'll have a reduction in yield and you have to work hard to harvest your crop, but you'll get something out of it," said Thibodaux farmer Bobby Gravois.

         As for sugar cane prices, farmers said they expect average pay.

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         Simon said prices now reach to about 24.5 cents a pound for raw sugar, which is an improvement from the pricing problems that plagued the industry in 2012 and 2013.

         From 2009 to 2012, prices hovered near 30 cents per pound. But, in 2013 prices dropped considerably — settling around 21 cents — tainting a bumper crop. Over the last two years an oversupply on the domestic market has pushed down the price.

         Gravois credits the drop to doctors and nutritionists labeling sugar as unhealthy.

         "Anything is all right in moderation. My daddy is 93 years old, and he uses plenty of sugar," Gravois said. "Sugar has come down to a consumption at an all-time low. But it's gradually coming back up. Sugar must be the best we have because anytime the artificial sweeteners come out they compare themselves to sugar."

         The low prices have forced some farmers, like Gravois, to seek alternative means of revenue. The veteran sugar farmer now plants soybeans along with sugar.

         Gravois and Simon both asked the public to watch out for sugar cane farming equipment on the roads during harvesting season.

         "We ask the motoring public to be cautious and watch out for slow-moving vehicles," Simon said.

         The Sugar Cane League says sugar cane is produced on more than 400,000 acres of land in 22 Louisiana parishes, and the industry employs about 17,000 people.

         In Lafourche, 28 growers harvest about 33,000 acres of sugar cane, according to the LSU AgCenter, while nine growers in Terrebonne harvest about 9,500 acres.

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