Some sugar cane farmers concerned after early freeze brought down harvest

Palo Alto, Inc. harvests 2,000 acres of sugarcane in Ascension Parish.
Palo Alto, Inc. harvests 2,000 acres of sugarcane in Ascension Parish.(WAFB)
Updated: Dec. 3, 2019 at 5:02 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Farmers say an early freeze in November is to blame for lowing yields on an already light sugar cane crop this year. The freeze resulted in sugar cane beginning to ferment in the fields, essentially rotting.

"Some of the tops were cracked open. We’re seeing bacteria creep in and degrade the sugar at the very top end of the cane,” said Patrick Frischhertz, a sugar cane farmer in Plaquemine.

Frischhertz says at the beginning of the year, he expected an average crop, but the untimely rains, and the early freeze have made that outlook bleak.

"I’d expect this field to go 42 tons per acre,” he said. “Forty-one to forty-two tons to the acre, but it’ll probably end up going closer to 34 to 36 if we’re lucky.”

Jim Simon, the general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, says the adverse conditions have created a climate where farmers stand to lose up to 15% of profits compared to 2018.

“I guess on average, we hope to be able to cover our costs,” Simon said. "It’s not going to be a very good year for us financially.”

Farmers had anxiously awaited harvest results from months of labor back in September after a slow start to the year.

The sugar industry is vital to Louisiana’s economy, with an annual economic impact of $2 billion to cane growers and raw sugar factories, according to the American Sugar Cane League.

About 17,000 employees are involved in the production and processing of sugarcane in Louisiana.

Simon says the good news is this should not trickle down to the American consumers.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has the ability to bring in additional supplies of sugar when needed and they’ve already taken some of those steps,” he said. “So we’re not expecting, the average consumer won’t even notice any of this.”

For farmers like Frischhertz, the impact is already being felt.

“I think the best way to put it where we are right now is just to get through this year and live to fight another day.”

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