Sugar cane growers cut in advance of forecast freeze damage - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Sugar cane growers cut in advance of forecast freeze damage

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New Orleans -- Louisiana sugar cane farmers are playing a game of 'beat the freeze', in advance of frigid weather coming in Thursday morning.

Crops that can't be cut in time will likely be damaged by a hard freeze, meaning less sugar, and profit.

It's Thanksgiving week, and cane cutting combines can't cut fast enough near Raceland. " I've been working these cane fields for 50 years, Thanksgiving is just another day," said Terrebonne cane grower Daniel Naquin.

As many plan family meals, cane cutters, refiners, and haulers are planning long hours, as they prepare for an early freeze.

The roads around the Raceland raw sugar mill are the Louisiana equivalent of Grand Central Station. Mill workers run 24-7 to process thousands of tons of Louisiana cane being cut before it's damaged by a freeze forecast for Thanksgiving morning. "At 25 to 30 degrees it will sour the product some, but the top part of the plant will be killed," said Herman Waguespack, with the American Sugar Cane League.

That means lower sugar yields and less profit. To make things worse, the harvesters do battle against soggy soil, and muddy harvests.

"We bring in more water, mud, leaves, and we can't clean it as good," said Naquin.

There are seven types of sugar cane grown in Louisiana, some are more freeze resistant than others. The goal this week is to get the least freeze-resistant crop out of the fields, and into the refinery, before the worst of the cold settles in.

To show you what a difference a freeze can make, last year, there was no freeze until March, and Louisiana had a record harvest.

Louisiana sugar cane growers produced 1.7 million tons of sugar last year. This year's harvest is expected to be about 200,000 tons lighter, in part because of colder weather.

That's why it's important for growers like Naquin to get as much as they can cut, and delivered to the refinery, regardless of the holiday. "We'll work Thanksgiving Day," said Naquin. "No turkey?" Fox 8 asked. "Hopefully somebody's cooking somewhere," said Naquin.

He says he's worked too hard, for too long, to see an early cold ruin his year.

Sugar cane is grown on about 400,000 acres of Louisiana land, making it the largest 'row crop' in the state. The freeze damage to crops this week, is expected to be worse, north of I-10.

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