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Louisiana sugar growers mull damage

Louisiana's sugar growers may have suffered substantial damage from Hurricane Katrina and might have to refine their cane elsewhere because a key refinery remains shut, officials said Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

Louisiana's sugar growers may have suffered substantial damage from Hurricane Katrina and might have to refine their cane elsewhere because a key refinery remains shut, officials said Friday.

Windell Jackson, senior agronomist for the American Sugar Cane League, which represents 95 percent of cane growers in Louisiana, told Reuters by phone the storm roared in last month just when farmers were "in the middle of planting."

He said the crop could be "significantly lower" when compared to the crop in years past because Katrina knocked down cane tops, shredded leaves and may have zapped sucrose content in the cane.

Louisiana is the second biggest sugar cane grower in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Louisiana is expected to produce 10.92 million short tons in 2005, down slightly from 11.067 million short tons last year.

Florida is the leading sugar cane producer in the U.S., with estimated output this year of 15.54 million short tons, according to the USDA.

Complicating things for Louisiana's sugar cane growers is the closure of the Domino Sugar refinery in Chalmette. It processes raw sugar into the refined product common to kitchens and dining tables.

Domino spokesman Donald Brainard said a team is evaluating the condition of the refinery, which has a capacity of 900,000 short tons per year.

"We are working diligently to have the facility patched up," he said, adding his company has to look out for the more than 300 employees who were scattered by Katrina.

Jackson said the options for sugar growers in Louisiana would include either storing the sugar or possibly processing the sweetener elsewhere.

The only other refinery in the state is owned by Imperial Sugar Corp. in Gramercy and industry sources said that while it can process extra sugar, it cannot take in all of the state's cane crop.

Brainard said Domino, which is now a unit of American Sugar Refining which in turn is owned by Florida Crystals Corp. and Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, also has refineries in Florida, Baltimore and New York.