Community Spotlight: South Louisiana Sugar

July 2, 2007

For more than 200 years, sugar production has been a way of life in southern Louisiana.

Locals say pure sugarcane pumps through the heart of the region, and tales of great-grandfathers working in dew-glistened cane fields have filled coffee shops for generations.

For proof that sugar is interwoven into the very fabric of the state, look no further than the Sugar Bowl that’s been played in New Orleans for more than 70 years.

Today, sugar employs 27,000 Louisianans, supports 600 farm families, and contributes more than $1.7 billion a year to the local economy.

But there are some who want to bring this proud tradition to an abrupt end, even as the state’s farmers struggle to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some large food conglomerates are lobbying Congress to gut the farm policies that assist Louisiana’s growers.

If that were to happen, the industry would wilt and hurricane recovery efforts in south Louisiana would stall. Small towns in rural Louisiana like Raceland, St. Martinville and Thibodeaux would literally become ghost towns overnight.

The state would see increases in unemployment. Tax dollars would wither. And, a ripple effect would be felt in the banking, manufacturing, and shipping industries.

Some cynics might ask, “Why don’t you grow something else?”

Because of the area’s subtropical climate and soil conditions, it’s not suited for anything but sugar.

As Jessie Breaux, a third-generation cane farmer from Franklin put it: “Do away with our current sugar policy and the only thing we’ll grow in south Louisiana is our unemployment rate.”

That’s why the state’s sugar farmers are writing letters and signing petitions that urge Congress not to weaken current farm programs in the upcoming farm bill.

Not to mention, the Unemployment Bowl hardly sounds like a place where college football teams would like to play.