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Sugar Cane Harvest Faces Down Year

January 13, 1999

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) _ This year’s harvest is not looking too sweet for the state’s $50 million sugar cane industry, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service reports.

Dr. Bob Wiedenfield, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station agronomist in Weslaco, said harvest is behind and yield is down considerably, resulting in a $10 million loss.

``We’ve had three dry years in a row,″ he said. ``You can’t make a good sugar crop without a good water supply.″

Wiedenfield said in a normal season the yield is 33 tons of cane per acre, but this year yield is down to 29 tons per acre.

Norman Rozeff, agronomist with the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers Inc. in Santa Rosa, said the water levels along the Rio Grande River haven’t changed much despite the large amount of rain the Valley received this fall.

``The fall rains came at the worst possible time,″ he said. ``We normally begin harvesting in the second week of September, but harvest was delayed until the end of November.″

Rozeff said sugar quality is very low due to those untimely rains. He said the cane was dry throughout the summer, and the moisture in September caused the cane to start growing vegetatively again instead of building sugar.

``Usually, we have about 10 percent sugar content in the cane,″ he said. ``This year we only have 7 percent.″

Fall rains also prevented planting of sugar cane for next season.

``We only have 2,800 acres planted for next year,″ Rozeff said. ``That’s low compared to the usual 6,000 to 10,000 acres.″

Sugar cane’s growing season is 12 months long and sugar cane requires more water than most crops grown in the Valley.

Rozeff said the cane needs 43 inches of rainfall and irrigation during the growing season.

``In a normal year, we have 24 inches of rain and the other 19 inches comes from irrigation,″ he said. ``Of course we didn’t have nearly that much rain this year and four of the water districts ran out of water in early July, so we had some cane sitting dry for two months.″

Despite the first eight months of the year being the driest on record, Rozeff doesn’t expect to see many sugar cane producers switching to other crops.

``Farmers don’t have a lot of options down here,″ he said. ``Once you invest so much capital into a certain commodity, it’s not easy to change.″


LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Killer bees have colonized most of Los Angeles County, according to the county’s agricultural chief.

The area colonized by Africanized honey bees covers 1,010 square miles, including 76 cities and 23 unincorporated areas, with the entire county to be declared colonized by the end of the year, said Cato Fiksdal, chief of the state Agriculture Department.

``The declaration of colonization does not really change anything but puts the county residents and agencies on a higher level of alert regarding the presence of the bees,″ he said.

The first known colony in the county was found in December in a Lawndale apartment building, about 16 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Five people are known to have died from killer bee stings nationwide, the last in April 1997 when a 72-year-old man was attacked at his mobile home in Casa Grande, Ariz.

More than 34,000 square miles across California have been colonized with killer bees, including all of Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and parts of San Diego County.

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