THIBODAUX, La. (AP) — The cold spring is coming back to haunt local sugarcane farmers who are expecting a stunted crop and later harvest season.
American Sugar Cane League executive director Jim Simon said he expects the harvest to begin later this year because of spring's cold temperatures.
Usually, harvesting starts in mid- to late-September. It often ends in late December.
The Courier reported (http://bit.ly/1svfGHX) Louisiana farmers harvest about 13.5 tons of sugarcane on average. Last year, the crop topped 14.5 million tons. The largest Louisiana crop came in 1999 when farmers brought in almost 16 million tons.
Spring's cooler temperatures have produced about 4- to 5-foot sugarcane stalks, about a foot shorter than normal, farmers say. The shorter stalk can affect how much farmers earn because they are paid by weight.
"It's like the sixth inning of a baseball game. It's too early to tell," said Bourg sugarcane farmer Wallace Ellender III, who estimates mill processing is down 10- to 15 percent from last year.
Lafourche Parish farmer Bobby Gravois said it's not a great year.
"We're going to pay bills and go through plenty of ups and downs. We're kind of on the low side right now," he said.
Weather, pests and the economy play roles in crop size.
A cold spring and summer can delay the crop, while farmers are inclined to plant on fewer fields if the economy is poor. Then there is the influence of world market prices.
From 2009 to 2012, prices hovered near 30 cents per pound.
However, last year prices dropped considerably — to around 21 cents — tainting a bumper crop. Over the last two years an oversupply on the domestic market has depressed prices.
The North American Free Trade Agreement allows other countries to ship almost unlimited crops into the U.S. market. In 2012, Mexico had a large sugar crop and exported much of it to the United States.
The market will eventually favor the states again, Simon said, but farmers need to hold on while it corrects itself.
"It's hard competing on that world market when you're not competing on a level playing field," Ellender said.
Prices have rebounded to 24 or 25 cents per pound, said LSU AgCenter sugar specialist Kenneth Gravois.
Ellender said prices must stay between 25 and 28 cents per pound for the industry to remain viable.
"The futures market shows about 25, 26 cents per pound. That's more of a break-even point for me. We can't make it with today's costs," he said.
The low prices have forced some farmers to seek alternative revenue. Gravois said he's begun planting soybeans as a supplement.
The Sugar Cane League said sugarcane is produced on more than 400,000 acres in 22 Louisiana parishes, and the industry employs about 17,000 people.
Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com