Area sugar cane growers fearful over damaged crop

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 15, 2004


Staff Reporter

RIVER PARISH REGION – Cane growers in St. John the Baptist and St. Charles Parishes are experiencing disastrous cash flow consequences as a result of this year’s low sugar yields, reported St. Charles Parish County Agent Rene Schmit.

Large amounts of water rested in cane fields from mid-May to mid-July.

Immediately following the rainy season, a mini-drought stretched from mid-July to mid-October. The heavy fluctuation between wet and dry weather contributed to a low sugar yield in cane crops.

“This is a very serious disaster for cane growers,” sighed Schmit. “Farmers are finding it hard to pay for this year’s crop and for next year’s crop.”

Schmit explained farmers are facing financial setbacks that will stop them from upgrading farm machinery and maintaining employees.

“These are our top quality growers. They average 38-42 tons of cane per acre. Experiencing back-to-back weather like this, they will see a tremendous decline in overall tonnage. They had no ability to stop what was happening to their crops. There was nothing they could do about it,” remarked Schmit.

The county agent said these farmers would probably see a harvest of 28-32 tons of plant cane per acre.

Older stubble cane generally yields 21-23 tons of cane per acre. This year growers are netting 18-20 tons of older stubble cane per acre.

According to Schmit, a grower will harvest 200-208 pounds of sugar per ton of cane in a good season. This year, farmers will reap about 160 pounds of sugar per ton of cane.

Earlier this year, Schmit thought the two parishes might see a possible 18 to 20 percent loss in sugar cane tonnage. Recent estimations revealed this year’s crop is down 10 to 11 percent from last year.

Schmit contended that while more recent assessments were better than prior calculations, the rates still spelt disaster for many parish cane growers.

The farmers not only lost tonnage this year, but many of the same farmers lost 18 percent of their sugar cane tonnage last year.

“This is a carryover from 2002 when the parishes saw two storms back-to-back,” conveyed Schmit.

Excessive water from heavy rainfall saturates the ground and causes slower growth in crops. Over the past few years, growers have not been able to stabilize and increase their crops.

Earlier this year, cane rotted and deteriorated due to ‘heavy land’ and a lack of nitrogen content.

When soil has heavy clay content, drainage is poor. Water can’t filtrate through the soil fast enough. Necessary nitrogen content is lost in rainwater run-off.

Due to excessive water, fields remained dirty with weeds for extended periods of time. Valuable nutrients meant for the crops went to feeding weeds.

Schmit said he was extremely concerned for farmers and for cattlemen in the two parishes.

This year was too wet for farmers to cut hay on time. Several cuttings were missed, when hay could not be harvested until August.

“This will produce a cost to cattlemen,” said Schmit. “Cost decides if cattle producers can remain in business.”

Cattlemen depend heavily on hay for winter feedings. When ranchers can’t harvest their own hay, they are forced to buy hay and grain to feed their livestock during the winter months.

Schmit said cattlemen are concerned about winter supplements, due to a reduction in hay yields.

The county agent said he is hoping cane growers will receive assistance from Washington.

“We’re in the process of making Washington aware of our situation. We need for them to take a closer look. Whether or not Washington takes action is up to them,” explained Schmit.

Washington will not be able to evaluate the damage to cane crops within the parishes until crops are completely harvested and total figures are provided.

Schmit said 55 to 60 percent of the parishes’ cane has already been cut. He sadly added, “Mills will ground the cane quicker this year because of the low sugar yield. We will be finished grinding by mid-December.”