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Despite the rain, work in this sugar cane field near Garden City continues Thursday morning. (The Daily Review/Bill Decker)

Frequent rain tough on sugar cane farmers

Consistently rainy weather during recent weeks and months has hampered sugar cane farmers from harvesting this year’s crop and planting for next year.

Sugar cane harvest season started around the beginning of October.

Louisiana sugar cane farmers began seeing wet weather a couple of months ago after a mostly dry summer.

“Beginning in August, the rains turned on,” said Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League. “And they’ve been hitting us pretty consistently since, for the last month and a half or so.”

Planting for next year’s crop usually commences during August. But rainy conditions delayed that process so that farmers are still planting while simultaneously working to harvest this year’s crop.

The American Sugar Cane League is a nonprofit organization of Louisiana sugar cane growers and processors that supports the industry through research, legislation, product promotion, education and public relations, its website says.

St. Mary Parish is always one of the top sugar cane producing parishes in Louisiana and usually among the top three, Simon said.

Sugar cane farmer Mike Accardo of Patterson said he’s still in the midst of planting for next year’s crop because of the wet weather.

“It’s been challenging for our growers, to say the least, to have to plant sugar cane and harvest it at the same time …,” Simon said.

Planting and harvesting sugar cane are extremely labor intensive, so doing both concurrently “stretches you very, very thin,” he said.

“We’ve had these situations before, and we’ve managed through them,” Simon said.

Volume of this year’s crop is better, so far, than anticipated, but the sugar content of the cane isn’t quite as high as recent years.

However, Louisiana has seen record sugar content levels in those recent years, he said.

“All in all, it’s still a good crop for us,” Simon said of the harvest thus far.

The harvest season typically continues into late December or early January.

“This year it’s probably more likely than usual that it will get into January. It’s because the tonnage, the amount of cane out there has jumped significantly,” he said.

While the frequent rain has made planting and harvesting more difficult, the rain has allowed the cane to keep growing. Industry officials are now just hoping for colder and drier weather that are both conducive to harvesting and improving sugar content in the cane.

“If we could ask Mother Nature for something, it would be for some brisk winds and dry weather to help dry out the crop and to help the cane set sugar,” he said.

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