Sugar cane crop shows promise

Staff Report @ThePostSouth
Cora Texas Sugar Mill in White Castle dates back to 1817 and presently grinds more than 16,000 tons of cane per day. It is the second largest factory in Louisiana.

This year’s sugar cane crop looks better than average despite an unusually wet fall and spring.

The wet weather has affected many other crops, but the sugar-cane crop should be strong after a mild winter and warm spring, local farmers said.

Last year’s crop proved to be average after unsteady weather conditions. Sugar cane is a tropical crop, so ideal growing conditions are hot and wet weather, but not standing water.

Thibodaux farmer Bobby Gravois said the new crop looks promising due to a warm winter.

“It’s still kind of early to tell what kind of crop we’re going to have, but we didn’t have a severe winter, so the cane is doing better,” Gravois said. “Cane can’t take cold weather at all. Where we’re growing cane we’re taking it to the limit.”

Louisiana, Florida and Texas are the only states to grow sugar cane in the United States.

“The mild winter made for a really good plant population on the row this spring, and for the most part, farmers were able to repair field damage caused by last season’s wet harvest conditions,” said Jim Simon, manager of the American Sugar Cane League.  “Right now farmers would like to see normal rainfall and sunshine and no severe tropical weather that could damage what appears to be a promising crop.”

The lack of a winter freeze helped the cane planted in September that will be harvested this fall, but the stubble plants suffered from the wet fall that left ruts in the fields. Stubble is the cane plant that re-grows for a few years after the initial planting.

A recently announced variety of sugar cane, named HoCP 09-804, should better withstand the cold, stubble well and produce a greater yield, according to the research from the LSU AgCenter.

The process of developing, testing and releasing new varieties is done by a cooperative of the LSU AgCenter, the American Sugar Cane League and the USDA Agricultural Research Center. The 804 was bred and researched over 12 years and showed its resilience during Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

The name of the new cane type may seem like a mouthful, but it is descriptive to those who can decode it. “Ho” signifies that it was selected at the USDA station in Houma and the “CP” tells that the cross was made in Canal Point, Florida. “09” stands for 2009, the year the strand was named, and 804 is from a list of consecutive numbers given to all new varieties.

Bobby Gravois said he tries new varieties when he plants in the fall, but he starts small.

“We plant a few acres of that new variety and kind of test it before you go into it too big,” Bobby Gravois said. “We looking for a cane that stubbles well."

Ronnie Waguespack, who sells cane seed to local farmers, said he goes by USDA and LSU AgCenter research to try new varieties but also does his own testing by starting small like Gravois.

“Just because the league releases a variety doesn’t mean it’s superman,” he said. “But we all excited about having a new variety. ... This 804 is suppose to be a good variety. 

According to the American Sugar Cane League, 22 Louisiana parishes produce sugar cane on more than 400,000 acres of land. The industry has an economic impact of $2.7 billion to the state’s economy annually.

This year’s struggles and luck with the weather is not new for Gravois, a lifelong sugar-cane farmer.

“We’ve been struggling with cane for over 200 years here and that’s the only living we want,” Gravois said.