YOUNGSVILLE, La. (KLFY) — Agriculture experts told News 10 that if rain does not come quickly, it could impact the sugarcane harvest dramatically.
“Louisiana is under major attack from the sun at the current time,” Eddie Lewis III, the operator for Eddie Lewis Cane Farm, LLC, said. “Every day there’s a heat advisory, and our guys are feeling the punch right now.”
Lewis said he had ten workers in the fields planting 30 to 40 acres of sugarcane. He said the workers start about 3:30 a.m. when the weather is cooler and he tries to keep everyone hydrated.
“I’m a fifth-generation sugarcane farmer,” Lewis said. “For over 100 years, my family has been doing sugarcane, and we never experienced heat and a drought this hot, this dry ever. So it’s definitely impacting Louisiana agriculture right now.”
“Currently, in Louisiana, the sugarcane is dying,” Lewis added. “There is probably going to be about 20-30 percent of sugarcane crops that will not be able to be harvested currently because of the drought. What we’re looking at if the weather pertains like this for another two, three weeks, it’s going to be more than 20 to 30 percent that we’re going to have to leave in the field.”
Lewis said leaving 30-40,000 acres of cane in the field is probably going to to amount to $20-$30 million in impact on Louisiana.
“It’s definitely impacting the crop,” Lewis said. “It’s impacting the labor and the farmer because we’re planting all of this cane right now, and if we don’t get any moisture, the cane will not be able to come up, and the crop that we have in the field to send to the mill, that crop is going to be short,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that Louisiana is going to declare a state of emergency, and we’re probably going to need a little help.”
Blair Hebert, an accounting agent with LSU AG Center, said the drought has slowed the growth of the sugar cane at a crucial stage of its development.
“What we like in a normal year for it to happen is we get that vegetative growth, and then we have the nonvegetative growth stage where the sugar wants to store all its resources,” Hebert said. “That’s when it fills up with the juice. That’s when we can take that cane to the mill, and that’s when we can recover a very efficient amount of sugar cane.”
Hebert said the situation is an unprecedented one.
“Unfortunately, with the drought and the timing of the drought, we really don’t have a lot of historical data here in the cane belt in south Louisiana where we can say, well, this is what we did when it happened in the 90s or the 80s,” he said. “This is just kind of unfamiliar territory for a lot of our producers.”
Hebert said they are trying to do is use as many tools as possible, but the South Louisiana sugarcane farmers will have to make some tough decisions to manage everything ahead of harvest.
Hebert said in the 24 parishes that produce sugarcane there are some areas that have received rainfall that is still below average but only slightly.
In addition, there have been some areas in the sugarcane belt that have been well below average, which is where the cane is suffering the most.
“That’s where some different decisions are going to have to be made, and it’s to the point where some farmers don’t have good growth where they can use that cane to plant,” Hebert said. “What farmers right now are trying to do is prepare themselves for probably the worst-case scenario. Make some management decisions and hope for the best.
“Farmers understand that they can’t control Mother Nature they have to live with the circumstances that are given to them,” he added. “Whether that’s a hurricane, a freeze, or a flood, unfortunately, we just have not had to deal with this to have some data, but we have found in those other severe weather conditions that sugarcane is a very resilient crop. I think our farmers are very resilient, and I think they’re going to make some management decisions. This industry is going to come together and work as a team.”
Lewis said the mill is supposed to start Sept. 25, but if these dry conditions persist, it may get pushed back to early October.