ST. MARTINVILLE – Parish motorists traveling along Highways 347 and 31 may have noticed a less tedious commute since last weekend. No smoke could be seen billowing from the St. Martinville horizon. The 2008 sugarcane harvest is now complete.
Mike Comb, general manager of the Louisiana Co-op (LaSUCA) at St. John said the 2008 harvest yielded 209.3 million pounds of sugar from 950,668 tons of cane hauled to the St. Martinville factory. But for now—the mill stands idle.
“We have already started taking down some of the equipment,” Comb said.” “We will dismantle everything and take two weeks off. Then, hopefully, we can do a few capital projects.”
Comb also touted that this year’s harvest gave the mill its best grinding rate ever. The mill processed nearly 11,000 tons per day.
St. Martin Parish cane farmers and LaSUCA employees annually strive to reach the “one million tons of cane processed” milestone, which they did last year. Comb said the shortfall this year was mainly attributed to Hurricanes Ike and Gustav and partly to spotty droughts around the parish.
The factory experienced no major mechanical problems that may have stalled the swift harvest. The mill was able to operate at an average of about 115 percent capacity for the entire season.
“Grinding in general was definitely below our expectations from the summer,” said Mike Melancon, who farms cane in the Henderson and Cecilia area.
Melancon who also serves as LaSUCA’s president, said though the crop’s overall stalk weight was down by almost 10 percent, the sugar content was high early on in the season. He said this year’s harvest was his third highest year in sugar production on his 2,600 acre farm. But high yields were not the only reason farmers may have done a little better financially than previous years.
“Even though we had high fuel prices early in the year, they didn’t sneak up on us,” Melancon recalled. “After the hurricanes, the fuel prices really went down That goes straight to the bottom line.”
Only 11 inches of rain were recorded during the entire harvesting timeframe at LaSUCA, most of which fell in the last week of the season.
“The weather was very cooperative for us,” said Jim Simon, American SugarCane League (AMSCL) general manager. “We had almost two full months to start the grinding season off. Sugar content was very high.”
Though LaSUCA and the Cajun Sugar Cooperative in Iberia Parish have completed the grinding season, Simon said other mills across the state are still processing cane. St. Mary Sugar Co-op, and the Enterprise Factory at Patoutville will be operating longer still because the planting season was delayed by the hurricanes. Subsequently, farmers of southeast Louisiana were stalled for grinding.
“Across the state it’s going to turn out to be an OK crop,” Simon said from the AMSCL’s Thibodaux headquarters. “But it wasn’t the kind of crop that we had hoped would really put a few people back on their feet from a financial standpoint.”
Simon gave three reasons why this year’s sugar content was the highest it has been in many years.
•By delaying the harvest by two weeks in most parts of the Louisiana sugar belt, the crop was able to mature for a longer period of time.
•Very dry field conditions allowed farmers to haul optimal quality cane to the mills.
•New varieties that have been developed by the LSU AgCenter, AMSCL and USDA-Houma have increased sugar yields throughout the state.