Dr. Ben Legendre, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist and head of the Audubon Sugar Institute, said the harvest is at about 25 percent complete and if the weather holds is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
“The weather has been absolutely fantastic for harvesting,” Legendre said. “It’s been dry and without rainfall for the most part. We’ve had cool nights and days with basically unlimited sun.”
Legendre said research over the years shows incident sunlight is responsible for sugarcane ripening.
Legendre said one disadvantage farmers face this year is slower harvest because cane has fallen over – or lodged – in the field.
“The two storms did cause a lot of the cane to lodge very badly, but fortunately with our new varieties, the cane began to erect itself relatively soon after the storm,” he said.
Growers are having one of their best years ever when it comes to the level of recoverable sugar per ton of cane at this point during the harvest season, although yields are slightly off the early predictions of 34-35 tons of cane per acre, the LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist said.
“After the storms, the first estimates were that we would probably lose anywhere from 3 to 10 tons of cane per acre because the cane was lodged so badly,” Legendre said, “Now, however, we are finding that yields are not as bad as first feared.”
He said many farmers are averaging about 33 tons per acre with the best cane yet to be harvested.
Bobby Morris of Morris Farms in West Baton Rouge Parish farms about 2,200 acres with his family. He said he’s cutting about 700 tons per day and hopes to be finished by Christmas.
In addition to decreased yields because of the storms, he didn’t get needed rains for this crop, he said.
“About the only thing that we’re seeing from the storms is some broken stalks, which mean lower tonnage,” Morris said. He said sugar content is greatly affected when the cane is broken because it won’t respond to the ripener that’s applied before harvest.
Morris explained that besides slightly lower yields than they expect from the crop, high input costs also are putting the squeeze on his operation.
“Skyrocketing prices are really hurting us,” he said. “A couple of years ago, we were buying liquid fertilizer for about $90 per ton. Last year we paid $250, and this year we paid $350. Now they’re saying we may be paying as much as $700 per ton next year.”