Workers harvest sugar cane near St. Martinville. 

Officials say preharvest estimates were not looking good but farmers were able to make up a lot of ground in August and September despite inclement weather and poor conditions it caused in the fields.

Sugarcane acreage in Louisiana is likely to increase this year after the recent successful harvest, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois predicted at a recent meeting for sugarcane growers in Iberia and St. Mary parishes.

Gravois said the 2018 crop totaled 459,000 acres, an increase of 19,000 acres from 2017.

Most of the increases are occurring in the north and western edges of the sugarcane belt. But the acreage in Pointe Coupee Parish increased by 14.5 percent last year, and cane production there this year has the possibility of displacing Iberia Parish as the leader, he said.

The 2018 sugarcane acreage in Pointe Coupee Parish was 53,591 acres, and the sugarcane acreage in Iberia parish was 56,314 acres.

The state harvest of 16.9 million tons of cane at an average of 39.8 tons per acre produced 1.84 million tons of total sugar. The sucrose content totaled 219 pounds of sugar per ton of cane, a decrease from last year’s figure of 242 pounds, “But 219 is still a pretty good year considering the muddy condition experienced during the grinding season,” Gravois said.

A look at cane harvests through the years shows that yields have doubled in Louisiana since the 1970s. “We’re picking up yields from a variety of avenues, but it’s all due to research,” he said.

The wet fall and winter that complicated the past harvest was matched by rainfall in 1982.

More fields are being planted with billet seed cane, AgCenter plant pathologist Jeff Hoy said. Billet seed is more sensitive to problems after planting than whole-stalk seed, but research using fungicide and insecticides at planting is showing promise.

AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said the difficult harvest increased farmers’ costs by $50 to $60 per acre, and input costs have increased. But ending stocks are down, and sugar prices should remain steady. The outlook for sugar is more positive than other commodities grown in the state.

Follow Adam Daigle on Twitter, @adamdaigleAdv.