US: Florida cane growers thankful for bountiful harvest

Published: 11/23/2017, 12:01:15 PM

Louisiana sugar cane growers have a lot to be thankful for this harvest season. Tonnage is up compared to last year and the long-term forecast looks dry and warm, reports Sugaronline.

"We are thankful this Thanksgiving in Louisiana sugar cane country," said Kenneth Gravois, Louisiana State University AgCenter sugar cane specialist.

Last year's state record sugar recovery of 246 pounds of sugar per ton of sugar cane harvested was 14 pounds higher than the previous record. This year's sugar recovery is 241 pounds so far, but that could increase, Gravois said.

Growers began harvesting the older cane first and now that they are at the halfway point, they are moving into younger cane. 

Farmers are cutting around 35 tons of cane per acre, Gravois said, compared to last year's state average of 31.8 tons.

It's unusual for growers to have a season in which both tonnage and sugar recovery are both high. Gravois credits a good breeding program at LSU that is releasing new high producing varieties and Mother Nature.

"You've got to tip your hat to Mother Nature," he said. "She has the power to undo all your genetics."

The 2017 growing season was wet, but not too wet, which promoted good growth. A warm spring helped get the crop off to a good start and a warm September gave the crop an end-of-the-season boost.

Louisiana is normally not lucky with hurricanes but Hurricane Harvey stayed to the west and Hurricane Irma to the east. 

"We are not normally that lucky with hurricanes. But we were really not affected by either," Gravois said. "But it's not like we haven't pulled our weight with hurricanes."

Some growers began harvest in late September, but started grinding after October 1. Last year the state's 11 mills finished before New Year's, but Gravois expects harvest to run into mid-January this year thanks to the higher tonnage. 

Harvest usually runs 90 to 110 days, depending on yields. 

Dry weather has kept the cane clean coming into the mills, which has minimized maintenance issues. Plus it has allowed farmers to get in and out of the fields without creating ruts in the soil that would damage stubble and affect next year's crop.

Louisiana growers plant seed cane earlier than their counterparts in Florida. 

"We were just finishing up as Florida got started and that hurricane (Irma) hit," Gravois said. "They are chasing seed cane now. They'll get it, but it will cost a little more."

With about 50 days left to go in the 2017 harvest season, growers remain optimistic. 

"Our farmers work hard," Gravois said. "The season starts in late February and ends in mid-January. They don't get many days off so it's nice when they have a good crop at the end of it."