Sugarcane planting off to successful start

Writer: Bruce Schultz at bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu

(08/13/20) ST. GABRIEL, La. — Good weather has allowed sugarcane farmers to get started planting their new crop.

LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois said July was wet. “These first two weeks in August have been drier, and people have made tremendous progress. We’ve got some people approaching the halfway mark,” he said.

Farmers tend to plant their poorest ground first.

The cane to be cut this year looks good and straight, with above-average height, Gravois said.

But farmers realize that tropical weather could cause problems. “We keep one eye on the tropics every year. It just takes one storm to turn the year around,” he said.

The 2019 crop of 482,000 acres will probably be surpassed this year. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s in the neighborhood of 500,000” acres, he said.

Blair Hebert, AgCenter agent in the Bayou Teche region, said planting is going well in his area. “We’re cautiously optimistic that it’s going to continue to go well,” he said.

Lodging has been minimal in seed cane fields that have been producing adequately to plant 5 acres for every acre of harvested seed cane, with a higher ratio for some, he said.

Whole-stalk planting is the dominant method, but more farmers are looking at billet, or partial-stalk, planting, and the AgCenter continues to research the planting method. “We do have more and more farmers inquiring about it,” Hebert said.

Farmers Chad Hanks and Carl Guidry, of Lafayette Parish, estimate they will be finished planting in about a week. “We could use some rain,” Hanks said.

They have been able to plant six acres per acre of seed cane, he said.

“It’s moving along pretty good,” said Mark Carriere, AgCenter agent for cane in Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes.

Most farmers have been able to get their work crews fully staffed. “I’m not hearing any major issues with that,” Carriere said.

Carriere expects Pointe Coupee will again be the top parish for sugarcane acreage statewide, probably surpassing last year’s acreage of 60,000 and again edging out Iberia Parish.

Matt Foster, AgCenter agent for sugarcane in the River Parishes and Terrebonne Parish, said this year is quite different from 2019. “It’s amazing what a year can change. Last year, some farmers were planting while harvesting because August was so wet,” he said.

Some farmers are harvesting soybeans to make room for planting a new cane crop.

Foster estimated harvest in his area is about 40% complete.

“This year, the crop was a little more mature, which makes for good planting material. It’s been a good year for cane. Everybody is optimistic,” he said.

As soon as the new crop is planted, farmers will turn their attention to getting ready for harvest. Grinding is expected to start as early as Sept. 15 for the Alma Mill in Pointe Coupee Parish, with others to begin in late September and early October.

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