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After A Dry Spell, Soggy Weather Louisiana's Sugarcane Harvest Stuck in the Mud

STORY BY Avery Davidson and Neil Melancon

On stage, the show must always go on and while it’s not as glamorous and far more muddy, so too must Louisiana’s sugarcane harvest. 

In Assumption Parish, Gene Adolph’s sugarcane field is so inundated with water, the rows are becoming obscured.  Two back-to-back weekends of rain have made harvesting conditions extremely difficult after dry weather made for ideal conditions in October.

In Assumption Parish, Gene Adolph’s sugarcane field is so inundated with water, the rows are becoming obscured.  Two back-to-back weekends of rain have made harvesting conditions extremely difficult after dry weather made for ideal conditions in October.

Even with a foot of water on his property, Gene Adolph is slogging though that harvest outside of Napoleonville.  He said he’s adding days onto what was a smooth operation during last month’s dry spell and in some areas now, he can’t see where the rows end and the drainage ditches begin.

“When you’re cutting with a 14-ton machine, you go through the idea that, hey, this thing could fall in the ditch,” Adolph said of his Assumption Parish farm. “The ditch is filled with water and I could be stuck and killed.”

Dr. Ken Gravois is a sugarcane specialist with the LSU AgCenter. He says if this crop sees warm, dry sunny days, the stalks of cane will begin to right themselves and sugar yields can improve.

“Our forefathers knew what they were doing when they brought sugarcane in because it is a resilient crop,” Gravois said. “It’s a resilient crop and it’s being farmed and processed by resilient people. They just have a mindset that eventually it will rain in Louisiana. Eventually the cane will go down, but we have the machinery and the varieties that can withstand those conditions.”

If it’s not water, it’s mud.  Many sugarcane fields across the state look just like Gene Adolph’s field near Napoleonville, La.  While the weather hasn’t necessarily been harmful for the crop, the rain and mud delays harvest with stuck equipment and dangerous conditions.  Also, more of the tonnage brought to mills is moisture and detritus, which means more trips to and from those mills.

If it’s not water, it’s mud.  Many sugarcane fields across the state look just like Gene Adolph’s field near Napoleonville, La.  While the weather hasn’t necessarily been harmful for the crop, the rain and mud delays harvest with stuck equipment and dangerous conditions.  Also, more of the tonnage brought to mills is moisture and detritus, which means more trips to and from those mills.

While heavy rains will not kill Adolph’s sugarcane crop, they are killing his profit margin and efficiency.

“Harvesting the crop, with heavy rains now, you hate to say the word, but you think about salvaging the crop,” he said. “The tractor tires have grips on them that are chevron patterned and they’re kind of designed to work in one direction. And so, when the tractors have to move in reverse or they don’t move as well, so things just slip and slide. You just can’t do the quality of work that you want to do.”

More than 20 inches of rain has been dumped across Louisiana in two separate events, including the remnants of Hurricane Patricia. Compounding the problem has been the intense nature of the rain events, which have caused flooding in low-lying areas.