Lafayette

Feb 7, 2013 12:47 PM by Melissa Canone

Louisiana sugarcane industry set a new record

LAFAYETTE, LA - Jim Simon of the American Sugar Cane League said the Louisiana sugarcane industry set a new record for raw sugar production with its 2012 crop.

"We had an outstanding year," Simon said. "Never in our 219 year history have we made more raw sugar than we did this year."

Simon said Louisiana's 489 farmers and 11 sugar mills teamed up to produce 1.71 million tons of raw sugar, beating the old 1999 record of 1.67 million tons. Louisiana's sugarcane harvest from the 22-parish Sugar Belt began in August and wrapped up on Jan. 15.

"There seems to be a slight pall over the industry because our price situation is not what we've become accustomed to the last few years," Simon said. "But in the midst of our current price situation, we can't lose sight of the fact that we had an outstanding year in Louisiana sugarcane production."

Simon made his comments at the Feb. 5-6 joint annual meeting of the American Sugar Cane League (ASCL) and American Society of Sugar Cane Technologists (ASSCT) at the Hilton Hotel in Lafayette.

The League elected Mike Daigle of Thibodaux as president to head the 44-member board of directors.

Daigle has served on the ASCL board of directors since 1995 and several of the organization's key committees. He is currently the CEO of Lula-Westfield, LLC, which is comprised of the Lula Sugar Factory in Belle Rose and the Westfield Sugar Factory in Paincourtville.

Also elected as ASCL officers were Mike Melancon of Breaux Bridge, vice-president; Charles Schudmak of White Castle, secretary; and Greg Gravois of Vacherie, treasurer.

A new 44-member board of directors also was elected at the conference.

"Our board of directors works very hard at the sugarcane industry's business and have had tremendous success guiding our research, lobbying and public relations efforts," Simon said. "It's because of their efforts that the sugarcane farming heritage continues to flourish in Louisiana after 219 years."

More than 300 members of the ASCL and ASSCT attended the two-day conference to hear researchers present their work and the featured speakers, Jack Roney of the American Sugar Alliance (ASA) and Jim Wiesemeyer, an agricultural policy expert with Informa Economics.

Roney, the director of economics and policy analysis for the ASA, predicted Louisiana sugarcane's industry will overcome the low price cycle.

"There is an oversupply on the market right now so I think we might see some reduced acreage," Roney said. "But that will take some time to see a market effect."

Roney said provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill that require the USDA to take raw sugar out of the food market and sell to the ethanol market may force the price upward again.

"As soon as buyers see the government moving in to reinforce the price, market psychology takes over and buyers won't wait too long to make buying decisions."

Roney said the low sugar price dispels the argument big candy manufacturers make against national sugar policy.

"A silver lining in the price right now is it takes the wind out of Big Candy's argument that they have to have rock bottom sugar prices to survive," Roney said. "A dollar candy bar has two cents of sugar in it and candy companies argue they're struggling because of high sugar prices.

"The fact is that they're expanding. I'm glad they're doing well, but I'm tired of Big Candy going to Congress and saying they're struggling because of sugar prices. It's just not true and we have to get that point across."

Roney said the Louisiana sugar industry will remain strong because sugarcane famers make regular visits to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress for their industry.

"You take a lot of time away from your farms and families to come and help us in Washington," Roney said. "It really does make a difference."

Wiesemeyer said American agriculture, including the sugarcane and sugar beet industry, is entering into a "golden age."

"You're part of an unbelievable age of agriculture," Wiesemeyer said. "This is a down cycle right now, but you're going to have a lot more up years than down."

Wiesemeyer said globalization, the rise of China and a growing world middle class are the reasons for his optimism about American agriculture.

Wiesemeyer said he believes immigration reform is imminent, and that will benefit agriculture.

"I just want to know which way they're (Congress) going to go on seasonal workers and I think that will
determine the outcome of the reform," he said.

Wiesemeyer said unions are more likely to support changes in immigration programs that benefit permanent agricultural workers than seasonal agricultural workers.

"Permanent workers are potential union members," Wiesemeyer said. "Seasonal workers won't join unions."

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