Louisiana Sugar Cane - Ourso Farms
Sarah Ourso Giroir, one of my wedding clients who married at Nottoway Plantation on July 27, 2012, first asked me to do a black & white photography project documenting her dad’s life as a sugar cane farmer, one of the largest in Iberville Parish, including all stages of cane production. I immediately jumped at this opportunity and decided to make it a personal project since my normal photography business Eye Wander Photo is entirely based on portraits and weddings.
Working with this humble sugar cane farmer, Artie Ourso, has been a “sweet” experience. Artie “Black” Jude Ourso, age 52, is one of 3 brothers who own Ourso Farms. He’s worked the fields since he was a young teenager with his father who started Ourso Farms. At age 24 when Artie and his brothers bought farm from their father, they owned only 500 acres of land. Today, they own 2000 acres and lease 4500 acres. This land is used to primarily grow sugar cane and soybeans, but they also have two large crawfish ponds that generate money during the first several months of the year during crawfish harvest season.
The process of sugar cane farming and processing is as follows:
• March-April: cultivation & fertilizing
• Early summer: grading the fields for drainage• August-September: planting season
• September-January: grinding season
• November-February: burning
Cane grows from the “eyes” on the stalks of existing cane. A field of full grown cane is cut down with a cane harvester, loaded standing straight up into a trailer, and then hand-planted back into the ground with three stalks laid flat on top of each other, then covered with soil. This “mother cane”, as it’s called, will stay in the ground three years and new cane will continually grow all three years from that one piece of cane from the “eyes” of the cane stalk. Although some farmers use a machine for planting, Ourso insists on planting by hand to yield the best results and to prevent rot of the mother cane.
When cane is one year old, a chopper/harvester machine pulled by a combine tractor cuts the 8-foot tall cane and it spits it out into a side wagon as 6-8” pieces. When it’s filled, the wagon is brought within 12-24 hours brought to the sugar mill before it starts souring.
Once at the mill, the cane is cut into small pieces with a large cutter making it easier to squeeze the cane juice. The sliced cane pass through a series of 5 large roller mills, squeezing more and more juice out each time. This dirty juice is then boiled at high temperatures, crystallized through spinning process using a large centrifuge, and then left out to dry as a brown sugar. The sugar is stored in massive warehouses waiting distribution and refining.