Louisiana: Sugarcane Acreage Likely to Increase in 2019

Sugarcane acreage in Louisiana is likely to increase this year after the recent successful harvest, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois predicted at a recent meeting for sugarcane growers in Iberia and St. Mary parishes.

Gravois said the 2018 crop totaled 459,000 acres, an increase of 19,000 acres from 2017.

Most of the increases are occurring in the north and western edges of the sugarcane belt. But the acreage in Pointe Coupee Parish increased by 14.5 percent last year, and cane production there this year has the possibility of displacing Iberia Parish as the leader, he said.

The 2018 sugarcane acreage in Pointe Coupee Parish was 53,591 acres, and the sugarcane acreage in Iberia parish was 56,314 acres.

The state harvest of 16.9 million tons of cane at an average of 39.8 tons per acre produced 1.84 million tons of total sugar. The sucrose content totaled 219 pounds of sugar per ton of cane, a decrease from last year’s figure of 242 pounds, “But 219 is still a pretty good year considering the muddy condition experience during the grinding season,” Gravois said.

A look at cane harvests through the years shows that yields have doubled in Louisiana since the 1970s. “We’re picking up yields from a variety of avenues, but it’s all due to research,” he said.

The wet fall and winter that complicated the past harvest was matched by rainfall in 1982.

Muddy, difficult harvest conditions challenged cane farmers across south Louisiana. “You’re out there every day without a day off, making a 110-day crop. That’s a long time, and I just want to congratulate you,” Gravois told the farmers.

AgCenter entomologist Blake Wilson said the tawny crazy ant has been displacing fire ants, but the species appears to be as effective at controlling borer insects as fire ants. Research will be conducted this year on crazy ants to learn more about their effects on sugarcane.

AgCenter plant pathologist Jeff Hoy said mosaic disease did not increase in new variety HoCP 09-804, so it should be possible to grow susceptible varieties with a healthy seedcane program.

More fields are being planted with billet seed cane, Hoy said. Billet seed is more sensitive to problems after planting than whole-stalk seed, but research using fungicide and insecticides at planting is showing promise.

AgCenter pest management specialist Al Orgeron said weed control work will continue this year for controlling divine nightshade and itchgrass as well as a study of possible resistance of winter weeds to Gramoxone.

Using Armezon herbicide is best on bermudagrass when the application is made on fallow ground, he said.

AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said the difficult harvest increased farmers’ costs by $50 to $60 per acre, and input costs have increased. But ending stocks are down, and sugar prices should remain steady. The outlook for sugar is more positive than other commodities grown in the state.

Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, said work has started to curb lawsuit abuse in Louisiana that is driving up insurance costs for farmers.

Simon cautioned farmers that getting foreign labor into the U.S. could be more difficult if a shutdown of the federal government were to occur at a critical time.

Rich Johnson, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said liquid sulphur fertilizer has shown better results than the dry form. Phosphorous applied at planting helps with root establishment.

Paul White, of the USDA, said the use of cover crops is showing positive results by providing beneficial microorganisms, reducing soil erosion, increasing organic matter and improving aeration and water infiltration.

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