- Associated Press - Sunday, September 17, 2017

MONROE, La. (AP) - Matt Frey admits noticing a few double takes from passers-by in Concordia Parish near Blackhawk when they notice a stand of sugarcane in his field, the first that far north in generations.

“Yeah, we’ve gotten some looks,” said Frey, who farms about 4,000 acres with his brothers Mitch, Mark and Marty. “But it works.”

The brothers farm rice, corn and soybeans as well as cattle and crawfish, but they’ve more recently added sugarcane to the mix.

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“We’ve only grown 19 crops and some growers have been farming cane for 150 years,” Frey said. “We bought 1,500 acres at Blackhawk and it’s real good, fertile ground. We decided to plant 150 acres of cane there.”

Kenneth Gravois, the LSU AgCenter’s sugarcane specialist, said sugarcane acres “have been expanding farther north and also farther west into Vermilion Parish.”

“As is the case with other crops, economics is driving the expansion,” said Gravois, who grew up on a sugarcane farm in St. James Parish.

“The sugarcane program is such a bastion of stability,” said Gravois, referring to the Farm Bill. “It’s well run and predictable. Sugarcane isn’t for the weak of heart, but if you put your heart and soul into it you can make a predictable living.”

Unlike Louisiana crops like corn, rice and cotton, there isn’t enough sugarcane produced in the U.S. to meet America’s needs.

So Congress, through the Farm Bill, regulates sugarcane imports and thus mandates a minimum price.

Frey and his brothers like that stability.

“You could hit a home run one year with beans and lose the next year,” Frey said. “We like the consistency of cane. There’s less fluctuation in price.”

Gravois said he believes up to a dozen new growers are farming sugarcane with other existing cane farmers expanding their acreage.

Farmers are growing about 440,000 acres of cane this year, a 10,000-acre increase from 2016, Gravois said.

“And I anticipate the acres to creep up again in 2018,” Gravois said.

Gravois said sugarcane varietals he and other LSU AgCenter scientists have developed since the 1990s are more cold tolerant, allowing the crop to be planted farther north.

“It’s reduced the risk of growing in these expanding areas like Concordia, Avoyelles, Point Coupee and Rapides,” he said.

But the expansion north may be limited by logistics. All 11 Louisiana sugar mills are in southern Louisiana.

“Growers don’t want to be too far from the raw sugar factories,” Gravois said.

Frey said he expects to harvest the 150 acres of his new Concordia cane in October.

“It’s looking good,” he said. “We’re down to the last nitty gritty now.”

Following are other USDA Louisiana acreage estimates this year:

Corn: 470,000 acres, down 150,000 acres from a year ago; down 30,000 from March planting intentions.

Cotton: 200,000 acres, up 60,000 acres from a year ago; up 10,000 acres from March planting intentions.

Hay: 370,000 acres, down 10,000 acres from a year ago; up 10,000 acres from March intentions.

Rice: 400,000 acres, down 37,000 acres from a year ago; unchanged from March planting intentions.

Sorghum: 15,000 acres, down 37,000 acres from a year ago; down 10,000 acres from March planting intentions. If realized, this will be the lowest planted acres since 1962, when the state planted 10,000 acres.

Soybeans: 1.3 million acres, up 70,000 acres from a year ago; down 100,000 acres from March planting intentions.

Sweet potatoes: 10,000 acres, unchanged from last year; unchanged from March planting intentions.

Winter wheat: 20,000 acres, down 5,000 acres from a year ago; unchanged from March plantings. If realized, this will be the lowest planted acres on record dating back to 1955.


Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com

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