Cold Snap Affecting Burning Phase of Local Sugar Cane Harvest

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SANTA ROSA – It’s the heart of harvest season for sugar cane growers, but the recent cold snap is putting a little bit of a damper on the harvest process. More specifically, the burning part of it.

Dale Kerstetter with the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Mill says on days like Tuesday, they can't burn.

He said there needs to be a 10-degree temperature difference between the surface temperature and the temperature aloft at 3,000 feet.

The temperature difference allows for the smoke and ash that comes from the burn to rise instead of being carried out to the surrounding areas.

"We burn for efficiency. The less leaf that's on the stock, the faster we can get in the field, get it out, take it to the mill, less filtration has to happen," said Kerstetter.

He says the more leaf that is left on the cane, the more it has to be filtered, costing them time and money. 

Kerstetter says with about a million tons of cane left to harvest, the cold snaps are both a gift and a curse with them having to keep an eye on the temperature.

"We're going to keep out eye on it because the temperatures are expected to dip a little bit more," he said.

He says the temperature can drop to 28 degrees and the plant will be fine. But it's when that 28-degree mark is in play for a long period of time, that a problem can occur.

He says the photosynthesis will stop but the sucrose levels will begin to rise, which is good for the product itself.

"The efficiency of the actual milling and turning it back into sugar again, it increases the production at that point," he said.

Kerstetter says the cold temperatures also helps the machines that turn the product, run smoother.

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