Sugarcane field day provides look at the coming season

Johnny Morgan, Salassi, Michael  |  7/24/2009 1:41:32 AM

News Release Distributed 07/23/09

ST. GABRIEL, La. – Drought conditions are bad for sugarcane growers, but a small increase in price is giving them at least something to smile about, LSU AgCenter researchers said at a field day at the AgCenter’s Sugar Research Station July 15.

Sugarcane can tolerate dry conditions in fine soils, but in the heavier, clay soils – which make up more than 50 percent of the Louisiana sugarcane-growing region – dry conditions can be disastrous, said Dr. Ben Legendre, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist.

“In heavy soils, cracks appear during the dry periods as the soil contracts and the root system of the plant gets destroyed,” Legendre said. “The plant just sits there, turning yellow due to lack of nitrogen.”

He said desperately needed rain won’t be a quick fix for this year’s crop.

“The ground is so dry that it will take a few weeks after the rain for the crop to show signs of recovery in the heavier soils,” Legendre said.

In the lighter textured soils, however, recovery in growth can come more quickly.

In addition to the dry conditions, Legendre said the sugarcane crop is facing problems with some diseases.

“Two of the major problems that we are seeing now are rust and smut,” the LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist said.

Legendre said, however, damage from the sugarcane borer is being suppressed by the dry conditions.

Another bright spot for sugarcane farmers this year is some relief in prices they receive for their crop.

Dr. Mike Salassi, LSU AgCenter economist, said raw sugar prices had been as low as 19 cents a pound earlier in the year, but a slight price change has been positive for growers.

“Back in March, we finally had a market correction, where the market realized that we have a limited or tight supply of sugar in the U.S. market,” Salassi said. “Since then, we’ve had sugar at about 22 cents.”

Louisiana sugarcane producers don’t get all of their money when they sell the crop but instead receive about half their payment at harvest. The rest is spread over a 10-month period, Salassi said.

“So this means that the prices need to stay at this higher level for several months for it to really make a difference for the growers,” he said.

Salassi explained future developments could help growers with prices, such as finding economical ways to use sugarcane and its byproducts for fuel.

“In this country, we’re consuming about 20 million gallons of oil a day, and right now ethanol and biodiesel are a really small part of that,” he said.

The LSU AgCenter and many other universities around the country are researching cellulosic conversion, which can use sugarcane byproducts, but the process is not yet economically feasible, Salassi said.

Field tours included presentations on:

– Insect management by Dr. Gene Reagan, LSU AgCenter entomologist.

– New sugarcane varieties and energy cane by Dr. Keith Bischoff, LSU AgCenter plant breeder, Dr. Michael Pontif, a sugar station research associate, and Dr. Tom Tew, a U.S. Department of Agriculture geneticist.

– Disease management by Dr. Jeff Hoy, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist.

– Weed control issues by Dr. Jim Griffin, LSU AgCenter weed scientist.

Johnny Morgan

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