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Despite harsh winter, cane harvest is strong

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Sugar cane has served as a strong lifeblood to the Bayou Teche Area and Louisiana, and despite harsh weather conditions this past winter, the crop is still harvesting strong in its annual harvest according to local Iberia Parish farmers. 

“For the state, the 2017 crop, last year’s crop, the farm gave right at $1 billion and that transfers into an economic impact of almost $3 billion,” said Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League. “We had a record crop last year and we’ve got decent pricing right now. It’s not great, but it’s decent. When you combine a record crop with average pricing, you know, farmers can do OK. From a financial perspective, we’ve had a good year.”

Ricky Gonsoulin, sugar cane farmer and Iberia Parish Councilman, said the impact sugar cane has had on the Teche Area has always been consistent and giving.

“If you look at the history, it’s been there for over 250 years,” he said passionately. “It consistently provides revenue for tax payers and people in New Iberia. We’ve seen an abundant growth over the years.”

In December and January, sugar cane farmers had to tackle several days of freezing temperatures and rain. These months are also when farmers begin to harvest the sugar cane.

Gonsoulin said despite the temperatures, he was still optimistic about his harvest.

“Mother Nature has the ultimate decision. You have to be cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Gonsoulin completed his harvest in January and is now preparing for the 2018 crop.

“March approaches and we’re repairing the field. In April, we will supply the ground with nutrients and everything it needs,” he said.

Simon said for sugar cane in all of Louisiana, the full harvest was still strong despite the weather.

“We were fortunate to escape tropical weather. Hurricanes kind of went to the East and West of us and spared the majority of the sugar cane belt,” he said. “Now, from some of the early freeze stuff from December and into January caused some effects. We were able to get by without the freezes doing a substantial amount of damage.”

With the advancement of farming and technology, Simon said the ASL is frequently looking for new ways to farm cane.

“Growers are using a technique called ‘precision agriculture techniques’ these days where they’re using laser-leveling equipment to better level their fields so that they drain better and it takes out all of the holes and low spots in fields,” he said. “Drainage in sugarcane production is crucial.”

Laser lining is a very helpful technique in farming, but is an expensive task to complete, according to Simon. With the accuracy of a leveled plot of land, the laser leveling will prove lucrative over time.

Gonsoulin said he sticks to traditional methods but is not limited to them.

“We’re pretty traditional. We have some different fertilizers that we’re dealing with. We’re changing our variety,” he said.

Simon has served with ASL for 14 years and comes from a family of farmers.

Gonsoulin is also a fifth-generation farmer and as a proud New Iberian said his family has never “turned their backs on New Iberia.”

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