ST. GABRIEL, LA. — As January came to an end, Louisiana growers wrapped up what is expected to be a record large sugarcane harvest, with even more acres expected in 2021, said Kenneth Gravois, Louisiana State University AgCenter sugarcane specialist.
“We’re going to produce almost 2 million tons of sugar,” Mr. Gravois said. “That’s a record for Louisiana.”
The US Department of Agriculture, in its Jan. 12 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, forecast Louisiana’s 2020-21 (October-September fiscal year) sugar production at 1,886,000 tons, up 3.4% from its December forecast and up 20% from 2019-20 when production was reduced by adverse weather, mainly frost damage in northern areas. Louisiana’s current record sugar production is 1,907,000 tons in 2018-19. The prior five-year average production is 1,678,200 tons. The January forecast is subject to revision in February.
Mr. Gravois estimated sugar recovery will average 232 lbs per ton of cane, or about 8,350 lbs per acre, which is in the top three crops for the state.
The harvest started in September and ran for about 125 consecutive days, Mr. Gravois said, with some delays because of hurricanes and problems getting imported labor. Not all parts of the state reported record-breaking cane harvests, but all reported very good crops. Coastal areas experienced some losses from hurricane damage and saltwater surges, although wind damage was limited by planting of L 01-299 as the major variety, which is easier to harvest when lodged.
The USDA, in its Jan. 12 Crop Production 2020 Summary, estimated Louisiana’s sugarcane production for sugar (versus the slightly larger estimate for sugar and seed) at 15,015,000 tons, up 23% from a year earlier and slightly above the prior record of 15,003,000 tons in 2018-19. Harvested area of cane for sugar was estimated at a record 462,000 acres, up 4.5% from a year earlier, with average yield at 32.5 tons per acre, up 17% from the prior year but below the record of 35.3 tons per acre in 2018-19. The sugar recovery rate was estimated at 12.7%, about even with the prior year, up slightly from 12.5% in 2018-19 but below the prior five-year average of 13.1% due to strong recovery in 2016-17 of 14% and in 2017-18 of 13.9%.
The state’s 496,300 acres planted in 2020 likely will exceed 500,000 acres in 2021, Mr. Gravois said, as continued expansion in northern and western parts of the state more than offsets decreases in some other areas, although strong prices for other crops may temper the increase.
“We’ll have to see what happens with soybean prices,” said Mark Carriere, LSU AgCenter agent in Pointe Coupee and Iberville parishes.