Eta Impacts Florida’s Sugar Industry

Clint Thompson Florida, Sugar, Top Posts, Weather

File photo shows the harvest of sugarcane.

The sugarcane industry in Florida was impacted by Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Eta last week. Farmers like Keith Wedgworth in Belle Glade, Florida continue to feel the effects of the rain-driven storm.

As of earlier this week, Wedgworth still couldn’t get into fields to harvest his crop following Eta, which made landfall on the heels of an already wet fall.

“We were already saturated to begin with. We probably got, in those couple of days, anywhere from 5 to 8 inches. The further south you went, down to say Homestead, they were getting over a foot in that short amount of time,” Wedgworth said.

“I’m the president of our county Farm Bureau and I was talking to some growers and they’re trying to get some of their produce out now. They think they can save most of it but there’s a lot of damage done; mold, all the other disease that you get when it gets real wet, saturating rain like we received.

“It was a rain event. I wouldn’t say it was a wind event. It was a tropical storm when it came and it went a lot further south. We got a lot of rain over those 24 to 48 hours.”

Quiet Sugar Mill

With the way the sugarcane operation operates, the sugar mill is normally running every day for 24 hours per day, 7 days a week this time of year. All of the harvested sugar needs to be processed. But with producers unable to get tractors in the field because of wet, muddy conditions, it’s delayed what is sent for processing.

“Before this storm came across, we had only been back in the field for maybe 5 or 6 days. Before that we had other rain events that kept us out of the field for a week or two. When you have something like the sugar mill where we have a crop that you have to get in at a certain time, it just really delays everything,” Wedgworth said.

“When you try to start up a month ago and right now they might have only run less than two weeks out of that month timeframe, you’re losing a lot of time to get that crop in the desired time you want to get it in.”

Additional Comments from Wedgworth

“When you have all this acreage and you delay it a few weeks already this early in the season, all it’s going to do is push it back further into the springtime. The later you go into the springtime and that heat starts returning, and it’s starting to want to grow again, your sugar content goes drastically down. You want to make sure you harvest it during these cooler months.”

When sugar is not harvested in a timely fashion, it also delays the planting that producers can do with other crops they use to rotate with sugar, like corn, radishes and green beans. Not only are farmers being hurt now but also in the future.