ST. MARTINVILLE – Adding growers to the supply network of the Louisiana Sugar Cane (LASUCA) Co-op in St. Martinville is helping to increase the projected yield for 2009. The overall seasonal grinding projection is about 1.116 million tons, an 18 percent increase over 2008.
But that could change, according to Michael Comb, general manager at LASUCA. Calculating the tons per day and per season for grinding is just part of Comb’s job. Several factors play into projecting the daily and seasonal yields, including weather, farming methods, and partnerships.
Some farmers who supplied an Iberia parish factory in the past switched to the St. Martinville plant when the Iberia plant closed. These new partnerships may add about 30 percent to the increased yield for LASUCA this year.
“Overall, this has been a wet season,” said Jeff Broussard, grower relations representative for LASUCA. Late November provided a dry spell, but St. Martin Parish had the wettest October in many years this fall with 16 inches of rain. This caused some slowdowns for cane harvesting and deliveries.
Before the season started, LASUCA facilitated an agreement with one farmer to continue use of 18-wheel trailers and trucks now owned by LASUCA. The 18-wheel fleet was recently acquired by LASUCA with the aim of mutual benefit for the growers and factory in transporting the cane. As a result, the volume is increased for the seasonal production, which helps all LASUCA members.
More cane translates into more hours for plant workers. That is also a boost to the local economy. At a time when other local and national industries are feeling a crunch, the LASUCA staff is optimistic about 2009. In the sugar industry marketplace, Broussard estimates the factory’s raw sugar price will average a few cents more per pound this year to the white sugar refineries, two of which are in south Louisiana, Domino and Imperial. That price is up slightly from 2008.
Many of the nearby farmers who supply the St. Martin factory manage several hundred acres of sugar cane. Some farm several thousand acres, taking out bad land and working the good in alternating years. The farmers offer seasonal projections to LASUCA for their tonnage, but experience has taught Broussard to compare and pace the estimates carefully.
Broussard explains that one of the larger farmers recently invested into several modern harvesting combines costing more than $300,000 each. The benefit of the modernized equipment is the ability to cut and load more tons per day. With this wet season, the new combines are better able to load damp, heavier cane than the older equipment.
It also cuts the need for the traditional methods of burning the residue of wet loaded whole stalks that are difficult to harvest with the older equipment. The stalk residue in the fields is removed through burning the shucks. Thanks to a burn management program facilitated by LSU Agriculture Extension staff, training is now provided to cane growers and other industry personnel. Ultimately, it benefits both the industry and the communities surrounding the fields. Training includes instruction on weather criteria, record-keeping, crop impact, and safety for burning cane.
Only one major repair shutdown occurred at the St. Martinville factory so far this season, causing a 24-hour backup. Time is precious, since the LASUCA factory’s processing operation generally spans just three to four months. But the factory is over the mid-point crunch after Thanksgiving, according to Broussard, and production is on track for the final six to seven weeks of the season.
“My work day starts at about 3 a.m.,” said Broussard. He missed a trip to New Orleans with his son last week because of cane production. Yet Broussard seemed at peace with the situation and only a bit envious as he explained, “I was at work while my son was at the Superdome seeing the Saints play thanks to a birthday gift from his parrain.”