Louisiana sugar producers are fond of saying that their industry is older than the country itself. Formed when Jesuit priests first planted the crop in New Orleans in 1751, the industry has survived hurricanes, droughts, and even a Civil War to grow into an economic engine.
Sugar is woven into the fabric of the state’s heritage arguably as much any other crop anywhere else in the country and even has a college football bowl game named after it.
Unfortunately, a proud tradition doesn’t always equate financial success, which farmers in south Louisiana have found out the hard way in recent years. A flood of subsidized Mexican sugar was dumped onto the U.S. market sending prices spiraling, even as the price for things like equipment, seed, and fuel steadily rose.
A recent Associated Press article offered some perspective:
Sugar cane farmers are hoping to break even as the season winds to a close.
Greg Nolan, general manager of Lafourche Sugars Corp. in Thibodaux, said last year was a complete loss and he hopes this year will be better.
“Hopefully, we can break even,” he said.
The outlook for sugar cane statewide is also to cover costs, said Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League in Thibodaux.
“We’re fortunate to even cover the cost of production. Certainly, there are areas,like along Bayou Lafourche, where the cost of production won’t be met. It’s a break-even year for the state,” Simon said….
[Farmer Wallace Ellender IV] said the price of sugar is the main issue. Last year, the price of sugar was 21 cents per pound, nearly what it was in the 1980s, he said.
“The price last season was terrible. This year looks like it will be a little bit better,” Ellender said.
Ellender said the price has gone up by a few cents per pound but not high enough for a significant profit.
“If you were making what you were making in the 1980s, it’s tough to make it now,” he said. “It’s just got to go up.”
Things aren’t quite as bad for another sugar-centric Louisiana business with a rich history. According to a Dec. 30 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Elmer Chocolate, which started in New Orleans in 1855 as the Miller Candy Corp., will also add 10 new jobs to its roster of 164 employees, according to a news release…
The expansion will bring the Ponchatoula plant – including administrative headquarters and distribution – to a total of 400,000 square feet…
Louisiana Economic Development began talks with Elmer Chocolate for a potential expansion in August of this year.
The company will get an incentive package that includes a $550,000 performance-based forgivable loan to buy equipment, state officials said. The company is also expected to pursue tax credits through the state’s job-based enterprise zone program.
Here’s hoping 2015 will be prosperous and profitable for both storied Louisiana industries, which are doing things the right way and keeping U.S. jobs here in America where they belong.