2020 sugarcane crop off to good start

Avoyelles is increasing sugar cane acreage

ST. GABRIEL, La. — The LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist said farmers are pleased with the progress of the current crop.

Kenneth Gravois said farmers have benefitted from favorable weather and good growing conditions since planting last summer and fall.

“The best thing for the 2020 crop happened in the November and December with a relatively dry harvest season for 2019,” he said.

Dry conditions in the first part of harvest were nearly ideal, although wet weather returned in mid-December and lingered until March.

An early freeze hit the sugarcane-growing region on Nov. 13, 2019, but the winter was fairly mild after that, Gravois said.

Warm and dry spring weather has allowed farmers to get in the fields for plowing, timely herbicide and fertilizer applications, and laser leveling of fallow fields, he said.

Some farmers are noticing a problem with the sugarcane variety L 01-299 used for seed cane. The variety appears to be susceptible to root disease problems, and its problems were worsened by the wet winter. Some fields that were used for seed cane in 2019 have been plowed out.

“But for the crop as a whole, farmers are pleased,” Gravois said.

Harvest in 2020 could be as high as 500,000 acres, he said, compared with the 2019 crop of 482,000 acres.

Those acreage increases are likely in the northern area of the sugarcane-growing region in St. Landry, Rapides, Pointe Coupee and Avoyelles parishes. Research plots were planted last year at the AgCenter Dean Lee Research Station near Alexandria to test cold tolerance of different varieties.

About 20% of the sugarcane harvested last year was third-year or older planting. In the past, only 8% to 12% of the crop was of that plant age. Extending the number of harvests from a single planting means more cane for the sugar factory, he said.

One of the biggest concerns of farmers is not in the fields, however.

The sugarcane industry is highly dependent on migrant labor under the guest worker programs, and getting workers into the country is becoming a bigger challenge, Gravois said.

Many farmers were able to get their workers into the U.S. before the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

“There were situations where the labor was delayed,” Gravois said. “We need the guest worker program to get the crop out of the field.”

Sugarcane mills are also concerned about getting their workers under the guest worker program into the U.S.

“Right now, that path forward is not very clear,” he said.

The American Sugar Cane League and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation are working on that problem, he said.

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