US: Rain continues to plague Florida sugar cane harvest

Published: 11/10/2017, 3:08:53 PM

First it was record rainfall, then Hurricane Irma and now tropical storms continue to batter Florida's sugar cane crop, reports Sugaronline.

The 45 members who make up the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida began harvest on October 24, but hardly got started before another tropical storm shut down operations for three days. The cooperative has 72,500 acres to harvest,

Cooperative officials know there is some damage from Hurricane Irma in terms of stalk breakage and leaf shredding that slowed growth, but their biggest issue right now is saturated soil.

"We have to be very selective where we do harvest, we're feeling pockets as we go," said an agronomist with Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. "It's not drying out like we'd hope. But we'll be all right provided we don't get any more deluges."

Florida's sugar cane country has been inundated with record-breaking rainfall since June that just keeps coming. Belle Glade has already received 55.94 inches of rain this year, about 4.5 inches more than normal and there is still seven weeks left in the year.

Dennis Wedgworth is one of the SCGCF members who is still waiting to determine how much yield loss his cane fields suffered from Hurricane Irma, but he knows harvest will be slower and more costly than last year. Growers will also need to harvest seed cane by hand due to lodging. Finding workers will be a challenge at this time of year. Additionally, the impacts from damage to that seed cane may not be felt for years.

He is cautiously optimistic that the damage won't be as bad as first thought, although his rice yields have been down by about half since Hurricane Irma. Wedgworth rotates his cane fields with rice and had harvested about a third of his rice crop before the storm.

Showers are in the forecast for Belle Glade from Sunday through the middle of next week, but nothing that not enough to shut down harvest operations.

The challenges faced by SCGCF growers are also being felt by growers for U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals.

U.S. Sugar has 200,000 acres of cane in Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties, some of the drier counties according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Still, planting has been delayed in that region. Some of that cane is owned by U.S. Sugar and some by independent growers.

Still runoff from Hurricane Irma pushed Lake Okeechobee levels to just over 17 feet in late October, the highest level since Hurricane Wilma in November 2005. The Water Conservation Areas are nearly 3-feet above flood stage.

U.S. Sugar started its 2017/18 sugarcane harvest as scheduled on October 1 but was shut down by October 4 due to additional flooding from a tropical storm.

Florida Crystals growers had to delay the start of harvest of their 140,000 acres in mid-October due to wet conditions.