Royalty Parade

For centuries sugar has been used to celebrate life’s special moments. Every September, the small town of New Iberia in southeast Louisiana hosts the annual Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival to celebrate sugar, one of the world’s oldest and sweetest commodities.

“The festival began in Iberia Parish in 1937 to commemorate the year the Iberia Sugar Cooperative was built,” said Lisa Norris, president of the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival Board of Directors. “The community got together, formed committees, and planned the festival. The event was not held from 1941 through 1945 due to World War II. When the war ended, the 5th Annual Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival resumed on September 27-29th of 1946.”

Now in its 80th year, the festival attracts 10,000 visitors and promotes awareness of the sugar industry through a wide variety of activities for people of all ages. Events throughout the years have included hayrides and boat parades held on nearby Bayou Teche. This year’s festival has a tractor parade showcasing sugar cane farming equipment of all vintages, a 5K run, and an art, photography and flower show hosted by the L’Acadian Art Guild and area garden clubs.

“The festival also features a family event called ‘Farm Fest’ that began six years ago. There are kids’ games, a petting zoo, and much more,” Norris said. “There is also a 4-H livestock show put on by the County Agents Office which is an extension of LSU Ag at SugArena on the Acadiana Fairgrounds, a car show and a ‘Fais-do-do’ or evening street dance.”

The highlight of the sugar cane festival is the coronation of “Queen Sugar” and “King Sucrose.” The first ever Queen Sugar was Alberta Mestayer in 1937. She was selected by popular vote of the townspeople and crowned by Lieutenant Governor Earl K. Long, the first King Sucrose. A beloved tradition was started and 24 sugar producing Louisiana parishes now compete in the Queen Sugar contest. Each parish selects a queen, who then competes for the coveted Queen Sugar title at a pageant on Saturday evening, and the winner is chosen by a panel of judges. A group called the “Kings’ Society,” comprised of past King Sucrose titleholders, selects each year’s king. King Sucrose is chosen for his involvement and contributions to the sugar industry.

King Sucrose SimonThis year’s King Sucrose is James H. “Jim” Simon of New Iberia. Simon is the manager of the American Sugar Cane League, and his family has been in the sugar business for several generations. His grandfather was a sugarcane producer in St. James Parish, his father served as county agent in St. Mary Parish and his brother farmed cane in St. Mary.

After 18 years in banking, Simon was hired as the general manager of the American Sugar Cane League. He is responsible for coordinating federal and state lobbying activities, monitoring research activities, and overseeing the public relations, promotional and educational activities of the organization. Additionally, he monitors environmental, trade, and other industry issues, as well as social and cultural issues which have a daily impact on Louisiana’s sugar industry. Simon has served as chairman of the Sugar Association and is one of the U.S. sugar industry members of the task force responsible for negotiating sugar trade with Mexico.

In keeping with the festival’s slogan of “Hi Sugar,” Queen Sugar and King Sucrose serve as ambassadors and represent the sugar cane industry at a wide variety of statewide events. They also travel to Washington, DC, to share the sweet story of the sugar cane industry, which has been an important economic driver for Louisiana for more than two centuries. A recent Texas A&M study shows that Louisiana’s cane industry supports more than 19,000 jobs and has an overall economic impact to the state of more than $4 billion.

“I consider it an honor to serve as King Sucrose LXXX and it is indeed a privilege to advocate on behalf of Louisiana’s 450 cane farming families and our 11 raw sugar mills,” Simon said. “The festival provides an awesome platform for King Sucrose and Queen Sugar to speak about this important industry.”

While the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival has grown over the years and new activities have been added, the focus of the event has never changed—a spirit of joy, community, and thanksgiving.

“Hundreds of volunteers come together from across the sugar belt to help put on this festival and show support for this unique industry,” said Simon.

This sense of community is reflected in the “Blessing of the Crop” ceremony held Friday morning at the festival.

“A local priest conducts the blessing ceremony on the headland of a sugar cane field at an area farm,” said Norris. “It’s a longstanding tradition and our festival board members strive to keep tradition and community together.”

The ceremony expresses the community’s collective hope for a successful harvest season, their appreciation for farmers, and their heartfelt thanks for the crop which has done so much for the economy of southern Louisiana. It is truly a cause for celebration.

Laura Rutherford

About the Author

Laura Rutherford graduated from the University of North Dakota in 2004 with a degree in Political Science. She is a shareholder in American Crystal Sugar Company and a member of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association (RRVSGA), the World Association of Beet and Cane Growers (WABCG), and the American Society of Sugarbeet Technologists. She is on the Board of Directors of the Sugar Industry Biotechnology Council and has published articles for the WABCG, the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association newsletter, and the British Sugarbeet Review magazine in Cambs, United Kingdom.

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