Sunshine Bridge closure takes toll on sugarcane farmers

Sunshine Bridge update

ST. JAMES PARISH, LA (WAFB) - The Sunshine Bridge closure has put sugarcane farmers in a real bind. It’s harvest season, and for some, transporting cane across the Mississippi River is costing them more than they anticipated.

St. James sugarcane farmer and president of the East St. James Parish Farm Bureau Pete Dufresne enjoys tending to his 2,600-acre crop just off the river. In the fall, the combines, tractors, and trucks are rolling out the year’s finest.

Pete Dufresne
Pete Dufresne (WAFB)

“It’s harvest time, and this is where we make it. This is our whole year,” Dufresne said.

But Dufresne is concerned about his profit this time around, and the weather has very little to do with it. His land is just off the Sunshine Bridge. Harvest season began on October 3, just nine days before a barge carrying a crane rammed into the bridge, damaging a major support beam. The bridge has been closed since for repairs and it’s not expected to be back open until January, the end of harvest season.

“It’s going to affect the profit margin because, unfortunately, our sugar is sold at predetermined prices. We can’t just increase the price of sugar to overcome the additional expenses,” Dufresne said.

Those additional expenses, Dufresne says, comes from the five extra trucks he has had to hire to haul his quota of cane to the mill each day. He says what used to be an 18-mile trip across the river is now approximately 50. The longer hours and extra fuel are adding up. “A truck used to complete a trip in one hour and now it takes three hours,” Dufresne said.

All that extra time is money Dufresne says he can’t get back. The sight of the Sunshine Bridge under repair for the remainder of the season, Dufresne finds hard to stomach. “Surely it was a completely avoidable incident. That’s the most frustrating part about it. To me, it wasn’t an accident, it was avoidable,” Dufresne said.

Dufresne says so far, the closure has tripled his harvesting expenses.

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