Chad Hanks started harvesting his sugarcane crop on Sept. 29, a week behind schedule. The Lafayette-area farmer said he waited for Hurricane Sally to pass before getting into his fields. This left enough time for cane stalks blown over by Hurricane Laura to begin to right themselves.
Hurricane Delta, the 25th storm in the 2020 Atlantic season and most recent one to take aim at south Louisiana, could also pause his harvest.
“We anticipate some mills might shut down before the storm,” Hanks said.
If a mill experiences a prolonged power outage while processing cane, Hanks explained, the mill could lose a lot of sugar from the cane that is in the mill during the outage as well as in the wagon loads waiting to be processed in the yards outside the factory.
Hanks would resume his harvest once mills reopen.
Hanks said Hurricane Laura did not cause extensive damage to his crop — some lodging and twisting in some fields. He said just as the stalks were beginning to stand back up, north winds from a late September cold front caused the plants to fall over again.
Despite this, Hanks said what he has harvested in the first week has been good.
“We start with our older cane, and we are at or a little above average on yields,” Hanks said.
But he is concerned that another storm could complicate the harvest. Lodged cane and wet fields could reduce yields, and it is harder to extract sugar from muddy cane stalks.
LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois said so far, farmers have harvested about 10% of the crop.
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“Early yields are encouraging. Many sugarcane producers are reporting above-average cane yield and sugar recoveries,” Gravois said.
Early harvest weather has been good, but Gravois said the industry is bracing for the impact of the hurricane lurking in the Gulf of Mexico.
He said the cane can recover if it’s knocked down by wind.
“Downed cane delays maturity, but the crop is probably ahead of schedule for maturity,” he said.
Gravois said after restarting, the concern of farmers and mill operators will be on possible cold weather like the freeze that hit last November.
“We’re always keeping an eye on the weather,” he said.