After a year-long fight, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on a number of businesses and industries — but agriculture in Iberia Parish not only survived, it thrived.
Growing crops and harvesting them is a way of life in Iberia Parish. From corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, grain sorghum, sugar cane, fruits and vegetables and even to cattle, the Teche Area’s agriculture is one of the most profitable businesses in Louisiana.
Blair Hebert serves as the extension agent for the LSUAg Center in the parish and said that the agriculture business hasn’t been affected like others.
“You see businesses closed right now, and we’re not there,” Hebert said.
Hebert said the biggest crop — sugar cane — was the most economically valuable resource per acre in 24 Louisiana parishes served by 11 sugar mills, and a total of 50 percent of those mills are on the Teche providing jobs to many Iberia residents.
“When the 11 mills are open, I think the mills employ over 10,000 people,” Hebert said.
Looking at April in terms of the sugar cane calendar, a time in 2020 when COVID-19 was in full swing, Hebert said that the crops were fully harvested in January and February. There wasn’t concern about COVID-19 cases, because farmers were done harvesting, for the most part.
A farm may have a dozen men working, so with just a handful of laborers, the threat of COVID-19 spreading was not a major concern, Hebert said. Those working in the mills and picking up cane were able to stay 6 feet apart. Hebert said the biggest issue for sugar cane crop workers later in the year was following the state and local COVID protocols, which they did successfully.
“Pretty much for the spring, that was going well,” Hebert said.
As the new crop year approaches, Hebert said that the outlook for 2021 is positive, and things are looking up for the agriculture business in Iberia Parish after a year filled with tropical storms and COVID-19 protocols.
“The sugarcane crop is doing better than we anticipated,” Hebert said. “I think we’re going to get back in the fields … we are going to be pleased. The feeling is going to be positive and we are going to be looking forward to 2021.”