Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Louisiana is farming country. Depending on the part of the state you're in, you'll see sugarcane, cotton, rice, soybeans, pecan orchards ... the list is endless. The abundance of water - it IS the Bayou State - and the rich, fertile soil lends itself well to these crops. My hat's off to farmers everywhere. I have a new appreciation for their trials and tribulations after this visit home.

For South Louisiana farmers, the hurricanes obviously can destroy crops. Judy mentioned that when she was teaching in Houma in August, she noticed that the sugarcane was tall and green and beautiful. Hurricane Gustav laid it flat on the ground. I told Don I thought the crop had been lost, but I saw that the cane was upright.

He explained to me that it was curved. Look closely at the base of the cane in these pictures and you can see what he means. Note: I was too afraid of snakes to go out into the fields to get closer shots! LOL

See how the cane is curved at the bottom of the stalk? It was laying on the ground, and then the stalks started curving up towards the sun. The cane is, my guess, about three-quarters as tall as it was before the hurricane. I asked Don if it was still good. Here's where I'll probably mess up the explanation big time, so if there are any cane farmers reading this, my apologies.

The cane will still be harvested. If it's laying really low, there are special machines that can lift and cut it. I forgot what they're called. I asked if the stalks would yield as much sugar now. The short answer - yes, maybe more.

In the life of a sugarcane plant, sugar is produced right before the plant's reproduction process begins. It's a stressful time in the life of the plant. The plant's reaction to that stress is to produce more sugar. When the cane was laid down and then tried to grow upright again, it stressed the plant - thereby producing high contents of sugar. Now, Don didn't say this, but I suspect that there are a lot of broken stalks in the field, so those plants won't produce anything. But the stalks that will be harvested will have high sugar content.

Whew! Here is a person who made a "C" in college botany trying to interpret what a Ph.D. botanist told her. I gave it my best shot! I know my brother is reading my explanation and laughing out loud! :)

There was some harvesting going on and planting at the same time. I think what he told me what I saw being cut was to be used as starter for the next crop. Here is a load of sugarcane pieces that will be planted for next year's crop.

And the field being readied for planting. Furrows are dug and the cane pieces are laid overlapping in those furrows. Then another machine is run across the furrows and it covers the cane pieces. The beginning of a new crop.

Here are workers pulling the cane pieces off of the truck and laying them in the furrows. Really hard, hot, dirty work!

This GIGANTIC machine is a cane harvester. I mean, it's HUGE! I can't remember a thing about how it gets from the ground, through this machine, and onto trucks ... I was gawking at this monster machine! Don and Gail's best friends are Mike and Diane. Most of these pictures were taken on Mike's farming operation.

What I don't suppose I'll ever be clear on -- cane is not planted every year. It's harvested, and then the stubble grows to be next year's crop. Maybe that happens a third year. I don't remember that part of it. I used to see fields being burned off, and I thought this was getting rid of the cane left in the field after harvest. No, it's just to burn off the other stuff growing in the field. That cane will grow again. Then every few years, a second crop is planted, like soybeans, I guess to rest the field. Then back to sugarcane for the three year or so cycle.

I have tons more pictures that might explain it all better, but I've totally confused myself now. So I'll move on to the processing. What this picture shows is a warehouse with a pile of unrefined sugar. The picture is dark, but I think clicking on it will make it easier to see. That pile is probably 30-40 feet high. The sugar is not edible at this point.

There was a barge in a slip being loaded with this unrefined sugar. We were able to drive up right next to it. We could have literally stepped aboard. I tried to capture the sugar being pumped down into the hold of the ship - there was a fine mist of sugar escaping from the pump. It didn't show up in the picture. Darn!

I suspect Don and Gail chose the land where they built their house because of the view of sugarcane on two sides! And the huge oak trees. It's so beautiful there!

I have one more set of pictures, not quite so detailed, on soybeans. I grew up seeing soybean fields but I had never seen a plant up close and had no clue what a soybean actually looked like. Then I PROMISE I'm done with farming pictures.

Don, I love you. Thank you for taking me around and explaining everything to me. The visit was just wonderful. Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY tomorrow! ILY!


Tracey in CT said...

Very interesting...thanks for sharing!

Shasta said...

Thank you for taking the time to explain this to us Vicky. I had no idea.

Lindah said...

How interesting! Thank you for taking us on this cane field tour! I would guess the soybeans are planted in the cane fields to replenish the nitrogen, much as we plant beans in our gardens and farms at the end of the growing season to replenish the soil for next year. That big old tree by your brother's house is magnificent. I would really like to visit LA some day.

Perry said...

Great pictures and info. Thoroughly enjoying your trip.