Louisiana sugarcane crop escapes extensive damage

(09/03/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — One week after Hurricane Laura came ashore, Louisiana’s sugarcane crop is still showing some signs of the storm, but the damage is not as extensive as feared as Laura approached the state.

“We did have storm surge — maybe not to the extent with Hurricane Rita, but we do have some growers out there with significant impact,” said Kenneth Gravois, the LSU AgCenter state sugarcane specialist.

One of those who dealt with the storm surge is Ricky Gonsoulin, an Iberia Parish sugarcane farmer.

“We received about 5 feet of tidal surge well after the storm,” Gonsoulin said. “There’s some wind damage, but more than likely, it’s the surge we’re fighting.”

A week after the storm, Gonsoulin is running a 48-inch pump and made three cuts into a levee to drain the water from his fields. These efforts to save his crop are cutting into his profit margin.

“All of this cost is burdened on the farmer — the diesel costs, pumping costs,” he said. “All of the damages go down to the farmer, and it goes down to the pocketbook of the farmer.”

Even with all the work brought on by Laura, Gonsoulin remains optimistic about his crop.

“We had a great crop, probably one of the better crops I’ve had in a long history before the storm,” he said. “And it is still out there.”

Charles Canatella farms 2,000 acres of sugarcane in St. Landry Parish with his son. The central part of the state received high winds from the storm, but after some sunny days, Canatella could see the cane rebounding.

“It looks like it has straightened up a lot just over the past two days,” Canatella said. “I think we are going to be OK.”

Justin Dufour, an AgCenter agent for Avoyelles, Grant and Rapides parishes, had also seen an improvement of the cane fields he toured.

“The cane was definitely bent right after the storm, but it is straightening itself out,” Dufour said. “I’ve learned just how resilient a crop sugarcane is through this event.”

Gravois said the weather following the storm will help determine the amount of damage the crop received from Laura.

“The degree of damage will certainly be dictated by the weather we have from here on out,” Gravois said. “If we have a dry fall, that will really mitigate the damage to this crop. If we have a wet fall, that’s really going to make it worse.”

For the stalks to erect and repair themselves, the plant uses some of its sugar reserves, lowering the amount of recoverable sugar. How much sugar will be lost won’t be determined until later in the grinding season.

“We’ll get a better feel for the damages once we start harvest,” Gravois said. “Once the trucks start crossing the scales, once we see the sugar recovery numbers from the raw sugar factories, we’ll have a better idea.”

Another positive for growers is that planting for next year’s crop was nearly complete before the storm struck. Gravois estimated about 85% of planting was done across the state.

For those remaining acres, planting will be slowed some as the seed cane is bent and will be more difficult to plant.

Flooded sugarcane.

Water stands in a field of New Iberia farmer Ricky Gonsoulin’s sugarcane, which suffered wind damage from Hurricane Laura. A week after the storm, Gonsoulin is still pumping water off his fields. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

Damaged sugarcane.

Wind-damaged sugarcane near Grosse Tete. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

9/3/2020 2:28:10 PM
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