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Matthew puts damper on sugarcane harvest

BATON ROUGE, La. – Heavy weekend rains from Tropical Storm Matthew have been responsible for losses to sugarcane farmers and mills in Louisiana, according to a sugarcane specialist with the LSU AgCenter.

Ben Legendre says farmers are facing lower quality in the cane they’re harvesting and mills are running slower because of additional foreign matter in the material they receive from the growers following Matthew’s invasion.

Legendre said farmers are facing the problems of creating ruts in wet fields as well as potential equipment breakdowns because of slower going through the mud.

But because chemical ripeners already had been applied to the growing crop, farmers are compelled to harvest as much as they can to avoid financial losses.

Sugar mills also face losses as processing slowed down or even ground to a halt as sugarcane deliveries dropped off because of slowdowns in the fields.

"Expenses are up, and quality is down," Legendre said.

He said sugarcane stalks in some fields have fallen over and will be difficult to harvest without some losses – as much as 8 percent or 9 percent in some fields. "This means increased cost of harvesting," Legendre said. "Plus, the growers will be leaving cane in the field."

The LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist said this year’s sugarcane crop was already under stress from an extremely wet spring followed by an unusually dry summer. Those issues came on top of carryover problems associated with storm damage in 2002.

"Fields that were planted before 2002 experienced damage from harvesting in mud," Legendre said. "Then fields that were planted in 2002 suffered because of all the rain. And fields planted last year had to go through the wet spring and dry summer this year."

Growers were already expecting lower yields before Matthew, although sugar content was expected to be higher than in recent years.

“An increase in the sugar content would definitely be a boost for the industry,” said Bob Odom, Louisiana’s Agriculture and Forestry commissioner, back on Oct. 5. “But, we’re expecting yield to be lower than usual.

“That’s the way agriculture works. It’s hard to have a perfect year where everything goes your way, when Mother Nature is the boss and rain clouds and sun are your coworkers.”

Rick Bogren is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.


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