US: Freeze has little impact on sugar cane

Published: 01/12/2018, 5:27:23 PM

Cold temperatures arrived in Louisiana and Texas along with the new year, reports Sugaronline.

Louisiana experienced temperatures in the low 20s (degrees Fahrenheit) for several hours in a row for several days in a row. "Obviously, this was a crop killing freeze," said Kenneth Gravois, sugarcane specialist at Louisiana State University.
Fortunately, harvest was 90% complete and most mills had completed their grinding season on January 1, just ahead of the cold weather. And the cooler weather has lingered.

A hard freeze can cause the cane stalks to split, allowing bacteria to get into the stalks and reducing sugar content. Warm weather shortly after the freeze can accelerate that deterioration.

But so far the weather has cooperated with cool days and nights. Dry weather also meant less mud coming in with the cane.

Although rain is expected to return to the forecast next week, temperatures will remain cool.

Farmers and mills have been working together to make sure everyone's crop makes it to the mill and is processed.  Gravois expects the last mill to finish processing cane around January 18th or 19th.

"Sugar levels are still quite high, but could tail off some at the very end," he said. He expects to see very little impact from the cold on the Louisiana crop, which should still set a record at just over 1.8 million short tons (raw value) of sugar.

But it has been a crazy year. Baton Rouge received 4.5 inches of snow in mid-December.

Tony Prado remembers that storm. Santa Rosa, Texas, home of the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc., only got a dusting of snow from that storm. He's counting his blessings that the cold temperatures in early January weren't as frigid as forecasters had predicted.

Growers had been bracing for temperatures to fall to 28 or 29 degrees (F), but the lowest recorded temperature in the Valley was only 30 or 31 degrees and those temperatures only lasted for an 1.5 or 2 hours.

A general rule of thumb is that most sugar cane varieties can withstand freezing temperatures up to 4 hours before terminal bud damage occurs.

"We got lucky," Prado said.

Some cane has been affected with top leaves being burned down. The mill is working with growers to quickly harvest varieties that are known to be susceptible to cold temperatures.

With a little over half of the Texas cane crop still standing, Prado hopes more normal weather patterns return. The crop is coming in a little larger than first projected and harvest looks like it will run until early to mid-April.

"It's going to be a good crop if the weather cooperates and we can get it all harvested," he said.

The Florida cane crop also appears to have escaped significant damage from the cold.

Clewiston, home of U.S. Sugar, dropped to freezing (32 degrees F) for two nights. Growers brought water levels up in the canals around sugar cane fields. Adding moisture helps warm the soil to protect plants.

Temperatures did not drop below freezing in Palm Beach County, headquarters of the Sugar Cane Growers of Florida.

Florida cane harvest typically runs until March.