What an interesting and educational day we had today. After seeing fields and fields of sugar cane growing around New Orleans, we called the LSU County Extension Ag agent in St. James Parish to see if we could spend some time learning about sugar cane. Al agreed to meet us today and took us to a field where they were harvesting sugar cane. THe cane is planted in August and not harvested until the following year starting in October through the first part of January. All the cane must be harvested before they get a hard freeze as once that happens, the cane is no longer any good. They harvest for 100 days straight without a day off, 12 hours a day, no matter what the weather. Farmers get up to 35 ton per acre of land. The cane grows about 10 feet tall by the time it is harvested and is worth anywhere from 21 cents to 32 cents per pound. Most farmers rent the ground from the landowner who receives 20% of the crop. THe harvester which is on big tracks cost over $350,000 and it costs over $600 per acre to plant the cane. Sugar cane is a perennial crop and they harvest it for 4 years before they fallow the land to plant a new crop. Every acre must sit dormant for a year before it can be replanted to help put the nutrients back in the soil. When they replant, they plant 3 canes about 6 feet long side by side down the rows. At each joint in the cane a node starts a new plant. It is harvested 2 rows at a time and the machine cuts the leaves off which goes out the back and back onto the soil to help with nutrients and the canes are chopped into about 12 inch pieces up into the hopper. Big tractors pull big open cages along side the harvester as it gets full then it is dumped into big semi's to be hauled to the sugar mill. Al then took us to LAFOURCHE SUGAR MILL to see how the cane is milled. As the trucks roll in to the mill they are weighed and spot checked for sugar content. THe cages are dumped and start through the mill by being ground and washed. THe cane goes through several blades and presses that continue to cut and squeeze the sucrose from the cane which is a clear liquid. It is then neutralized with lime and heated to boiling where it begins to form crystals. It is sent through pipes and into big vats that separate the sugar particles from the molasses by spinning. The machines look like a huge washing machine tub with an agitator in the middle. As the molasses is being extracted from the sugar grains, it continues to get lighter and lighter in color. Once it has gone through this process many times the raw sugar is then loaded onto big trucks and taken to a warehouse and packaged where it is then sold to be refined for table, brown, powdered sugars and other uses. THe cane contains about 70% water, 20% fiber and 10% sucrose which then is milled into raw sugar and molasses. A hundred pounds of raw sugar produces about 96 pounds of refined. A ton of cane yields 170 to 225 pounds of raw sugar, and 6 and a half gallons of molasses. The molasses is used to make rum, in cooking and for livestock feed. THe mill receives 40% of the farmers hauled in crop and the farmer gets 60%...remember that 20% of that goes to the landowner. The cane fiber is called bagasse and used to fire their steam boilers that run the plant. Each plant is only open for 90 days a year. THe mill uses about half the bagasse to run their plant and Mike and I couldn't help but wonder why the energy companies aren't taking advantage of the other half. We were delighted to learn that in Louisiana, many of the farmers are fourth generation planters and that it is one of the states biggest crops. On our way from the field to the mill, we stopped to see commercial crawfish ponds and visited with the crawfish farmer. The crawfish season is just beginning and he had just finished for the day by the time we arrived. He also rents the fields and floods them with water to plant the crawfish. Each fish produces about 500 little crawfish that eat algae from the plants in the bogs and they are caught in traps for sale. On our way back tot he motor home we saw a fruit stand and they are just starting to harvest strawberries in LA...yum! We probably have said this many times,but this was one of our favorite days on our travels. And we can't thank Al enough for taking time to teach us about sugar cane. Since I am only able to download 10 photos per blog, I will put other photos on my Facebook page.