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Farmers finish good sugarcane harvest season

Rains around the New Year's holiday weekend didn't dampen this season's Louisiana sugarcane harvest — which experts say turned out to be “relatively good.” Although the sugarcane harvest season often stretches past New Year's, the last Louisiana mills finished processing this year's sugarcane — which farmers had finished harvesting earlier — on Dec. 28.

“For the most part, it was a relatively good harvest season,” said Ben Legendre, sugarcane specialist with the LSU AgCenter's Sugar Research Station at St. Gabriel. “Overall, it turned out to be pretty good.”

Legendre said the Louisiana yields were between 30 tons and 31 tons of cane per acre, which was off 2 to 3 tons from the 2002 harvest. On the other hand, the average sugar yield per ton of cane was between 212 pounds and 215 pounds — up from 179 pounds of sugar per ton of cane in 2002.

“Sugar recoveries per ton were much better than last year,” Legendre said. “But it was about average for the previous five years, excluding the low yield of the 2002 crop.”

Industry observers estimate the 2003 crop will yield approximately 1.47 million tons of sugar, which was produced on more than 480,000 acres in the state.

If those projects hold true, the gross farm income from sugar and molasses for 2003 will total nearly $360 million. Value-added income of approximately $240 million will bring the total economic contribution from Louisiana sugar production to approximately $600 million.

Sugarcane fields generally provide three to four years' worth of crops harvested annually from mid-September through mid-January before they must be replanted.

Although the final figures for this year aren't in yet, Louisiana farmers grew nearly 495,000 acres of sugarcane in 25 parishes during the previous year. In 2002, they harvested more than 455,000 acres with a total production of almost 1.3 million tons of sugar.

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