Louisiana sugarcane farmers are taking advantage of good weather and improving prices as they progress into the more productive phase of this year’s harvest.

“Farmers are optimistic that their yields will be better than normal,” said Ben Legendre, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist. “We have some of the best yields we’ve seen in terms of tons of cane per acre.”

He said higher prices, in the range of 28-32 cents a pound, have improved the outlook, but almost two-thirds of this year’s sugar was sold before the harvest started at around 20.5 cents.

The harvest began with unusually wet, muddy fields that lowered quality, he said. But conditions have improved with dry weather.

Farmers have started or are about to start harvesting cane that was planted in 2008. “Yields are coming in on the plant cane better than expected,” he said.

Jimmy Flanagan, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Mary Parish, La., said tonnage is in the 35-ton per acre range. “Nobody I’ve heard from so far is doing terrible,” he said.

Flanagan said farmers have been plagued with breakdowns and mechanical problems this year.

“These guys have been under economic stress and haven’t been able to keep their equipment updated like they prefer,” Flanagan said.

He said it’s likely that farmers who end the season profitably will use much of that money to buy new equipment or have repairs made.

Flanagan said more farmers planted soybeans this year on fallow ground. “Most of them did pretty well,” he said.

Planting went well this year with ample rainfall, unlike 2008. “We ought to be in pretty good shape going into the spring,” he said.

Al Guidry, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Martin Parish, La., said the harvest has improved considerably with the change in weather.

“We’ve made good progress since the rain stopped,” Guidry said.

Rainfall at the end of the summer was good for planting, he said, and the plant cane to be cut this year appears to have good potential. “We’ve got a beautiful plant cane crop,” he said, adding farmers are cutting as much as 34 tons per acre, with recoverable sugar exceeding 200 pounds per ton of cane.

“We’ve gotten into our better cane and it’s looking good,” he said.

Guidry said the St. John sugar mill had processed 575,000 tons of cane as of Nov. 24, with a target of 1.1 million tons, which will be reached by mid-January.

Cane grower Chad Hanks of Lafayette Parish, La., said his yields are down this year because his fields didn’t get enough rainfall, but others are doing well.

“We didn’t catch but one good rain all summer,” he said.

Hanks said sugar levels are increasing, and prices are higher with the potential to increase more.

“The economics are changing and it’s not just domestically driven. We’re seeing a situation we haven’t seen since 1970 in the world market.”