"We're probably close to the 50 percent mark in terms of acres harvested but maybe not quite in tonnage," said Ben Legendre, Extension sugarcane specialist with the LSU AgCenter's Sugar Research Station at St. Gabriel.

Legendre said Louisiana sugar mills also "are running between 40 percent and 50 percent complete, based on what they're planning to grind."

Although the sugarcane season often stretches past New Year's, Legendre said some mills expect to be finished by Christmas.

"We're going through this crop pretty fast," he said.

Legendre said this year's crop is off by 10 percent to 15 percent in terms of gross tonnage compared with last year. That crop was harvested in extremely wet conditions, causing a residual effect on the current harvest.

Sugarcane fields generally provide three to four years' worth of crops before they have to be replanted.

Legendre said the 2002 crop averaged about 33 tons of cane per acre statewide, while this year's crop is closer to 30 tons per acre.

The 2003 sugar yield, on the other hand, is significantly better than last year.

"Last year the average was 176 pounds per ton for the Louisiana industry as a whole," Legendre said. "Through Nov. 1, our average is about 209 pounds and will more than likely get better."

In 2002, Louisiana farmers grew nearly 495,000 acres of sugarcane in 25 parishes. They harvested more than 455,000 acres for sugar with a total production of almost 1.3 million tons of sugar.

The 2002 gross farm income was $334.3 million for sugar and molasses, and value-added income was an additional $214 million – for a total contribution of $548.3 million from the sugar industry to the Louisiana economy last year.

Rick Bogren is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu