Around Acadiana

Nov 21, 2013 1:00 PM by Daniel Phillips

The Air We Breathe: The Problems with Burning Sugar Part 1

Responsible for billions of dollars each year and thousands of jobs for the state of Louisiana the sugar cane industry provides a major boom to the state, but harvesting the cash crop can be tricky.

Leafy matter that gets left behind when the cane is harvested is known as leaf trash. Stan Ducile with the LSU AgCenter says that "the idea is to send as little leaf trash to the sugar mills as possible."

All the fiber contained in the leaf trash causes problems in the sugar factory so it needs to be removed before the cane can be processed.

Sugar cane farmers could collect all the trash and move it but moving such a substantial amount of bio waste would add to transportation costs and put more trucks on the highways

So to eliminate the leaf trash, the farmers burn it off, since leaving it on the ground could damage future crops.

Dwayne Viator a local farmer describes leaving the trash on the ground as a "wet blanket" laying on the crop making it susceptible to disease.

This explains all the plumes of smoke that can be seen drifting over sugar cane fields every year late in the fall season, but there is no one managing exactly what is being released in the air, or how much.

Farmers are encouraged to take a class offered by the LSU AgCenter so they can learn how to identify smoke sensitive areas and how to burn more safely and responsible. Since there are no regulations, however, it is up to the farmers to police themselves.

Dwayne says that the farmers will speak with others to make sure that they are following the rules so that regulations wouldn't be placed on the industry.

We asked the department of Environmental Quality what the impacts were from all the burning and they responded by saying that they couldn't talk about it because of Louisiana statutes and instead referred us to the Department of Agriculture.

We called the Department of Agriculture and asked them the same question, they responded with the same answer and told us to call DEQ.

So at the end of the day it's up to the farmers themselves to make sure that what they are burning is safe and responsible.

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