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Hurricane Delta delays sugarcane factories and causes further lodging

TAGS: Harvest
Kenneth Gravois kenneth-gravois-sugarcane.JPG
Sugarcane lodged from hurricane winds. Stalks will continue to grow as the tops reach upward to the sky in about 7 to 10 days, according to Kenneth Gravois.
Hurricane Delta causes further lodging and similar damage as hurricane Laura to the sugarcane crop in Louisiana.

Hurricane Delta, carving a similar path as Hurricane Laura, affected many of the sugarcane farms similarly.

"The storm track was to the west of the sugarcane growing region of Louisiana," said Kenneth Gravois, sugarcane specialist for LSU's AgCenter. "Most wind damage and flooding were in the coastal, western, and northern portions of the sugar industry."

Due to Hurricane Laura at the end of August, the crop had already experienced lodging, and further lodging from hurricane Delta was less consequential. The eastern part of the state had more wind but had only slight to moderate lodging, according to Gravois.

"Parts of the industry experienced high rainfall," he said. "Radar estimated rainfall was as high as 15 to 20 inches in parts of Evangeline, St. Landry, Avoyelles, and Rapides parishes. Although rainfall was less (4 to 12 inches) in Vermilion, Iberia, and St. Mary parishes, surface drainage was slowed by significant storm surge."

As of early the following week after the storm, water was still standing and draining off several sugarcane fields.

"Many of the same areas affected by Laura were affected by Delta," Gravois said. "Newly planted fields had already suffered stand loss from Hurricane Laura and were flooded again. Standing mature cane for harvest in these areas is more resilient.

"One of the biggest impacts will be the stoppage of all Louisiana raw sugar factories before hurricane Delta. You do not want to lose power with sugarcane in all stages of processing into raw sugar. By Tuesday, Oct. 13, all Louisiana mills were back in operation after a two- to a four-day stoppage."

The cane quality has suffered due to hurricane Delta and has increased mud and leafy trash in cane deliveries. However, as fields dry, the cane quality is expected to improve.

"On a good note, the extra days after ripener application are improving sucrose content greatly," Gravois said. "With drying weather, sucrose recovery in the cane should return to pre-storm levels.

"The largest effect of hurricane season for Louisiana farmers and millers will be the factory delays due to weather. Early crop estimates confirm a good crop in the field along with increased acreage for the 2020 grinding season."

Sugarcane on a coastal parish

Blair Hebert, Iberia Parrish Extension ag agent, said the extent of the damage largely depended on the location of the farm. Most sugarcane farms experienced mainly lodging from storm surges, and a few farms had extreme damage.

"We have been traditionally the largest sugar cane producing parish in the state, but we got surpassed this year by a few thousand acres. However, we still have 60,000 acres in the parish," Hebert said. "Sugarcane is not grown everywhere, and in Louisiana, it's only grown in around 24 out of 64 parishes.

During a hurricane, there are three main concerns: rain/flooding, wind, and storm surge.

"From both hurricane Laura and Delta, we experienced some rain but not much, around three to five inches of rain both times," he said. "Because we're a coastal parish, our main concern is storm surge. Wind and surge were what hurt us the most from both hurricanes."

Sugarcane crops are propagated at the beginning of August, and most farmers try to start harvesting around Sept. 30.

"I thought this was going to be a tremendous crop when it first started growing," Hebert said. "Then we went through Laura, and the crop lodged or leaned to one side as well as experienced tattered leaves. Luckily, we didn’t see a lot of breakage at a ground level or the tops of the stalks. By the time we got to harvest, the crop straightened somewhat.

"With Delta, we experienced some of the same damage over again, mostly from wind and storm surges. We haven't seen any twisted cane, which is a nightmare to harvest, and we haven't seen breakage at a ground level or the tops. There are a lot of tattered leaves, but we aren't concerned with that at this point."

Some sugarcane mills experienced minimal damage. The sugarcane mills were able to safely start back on Oct.12.

"It's an expense for the mills to reopen as if it's the first day of harvest as it takes a bit of time to get caught up from the time they lose," Hebert said. "It will take the harvest more time to get through the fields, depending on how much the fields got damaged. When it comes to the sugarcane crop, we want it to have weight and recoverable sugar. In a perfect year, we have a good weight and recoverable sugar, which is what I think we had before all the hurricanes came through this year. The plants won't reach their full potential in either category, but at this point, we think we'll have a bigger loss on recoverable sugar."

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