ST. MARTINVILLE, La. — It’s known as the Louisiana Sugar Cane Cooperative Sugar Mill, and in the 2019 harvest season, the facility took in year over 1.4 million tons of sugar cane.
As the most recent season (2020-21) approached, farmers and mill workers weren’t sure. There were hurricanes; there was/is a pandemic. So guess what? The last number is---Wow!-- 1.8 million tons-- a near record."
"We've been blessed with good yields this year,” says John Hebert of the Louisiana Sugar Cane Cooperative, “and fair weather, too. It wasn't overly dry, it wasn't overly wet; but all in all, it's been a good season."
So what went right?
Well for one thing, those aforementioned hurricanes--Laura and Delta-- were indeed causes for concern, but for most of Acadiana, the storms were kind on sugar cane farmers.
"We were lucky in that both the storms that hit this area and impacted,” says LSU Ag Center’s Stuart Gauthier. “Even though it laid the cane down, it didn't twist up and break the cane. and so, we were fortunate in that."
Casting an even wider net was 2020's version of the pandemic.
And while many businesses had to shut or others could work from home, sugar cane growers were forced to watch the clock and --particularly from October to early January—and then get into the fields.
"Everything is timely. you've got to fertilize your crop, you have to spray for insects and fungal disease, and if you miss those windows, you're not going to have a crop," says Gauthier.
From Vermlion to Rapides, Lafayette to Iberville, about 65 farmers from a 45-mile radius in 12 parishes use the Louisiana Sugarcane Co-Op (or LASUCA for short) in St. Martinville.
The good numbers were universal from farmers who came to the mill.
“That’s about two tons per acre higher than our five year average here at LASUCA, but also about two tons per acre lower than our highest yielding crop, which would have been the 2018 crop,” explains Hebert.
With more acreage being used for sugar cane, grinding season went on for about a month longer than normal; in fact, LASUCA took in its last delivery of cane only a week ago.
“We’ve had a really late finish to harvest, but that could actually help next year's yields,” continues Hebert, “because the later you harvest the cane crop, generally the better the subsequent crop comes back the next spring."
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