Vol. 44, No. 4 Sugarcane
Exposure of sugarcane to damaging frosts occurs in about a fourth of the sugarcane-producing countries but is most frequent in the United States, particularly in Louisiana. Here, winter freezes have forced the industry to adapt to a short growing season (about nine months) and a short milling season (about three months), although in recent years the milling season has been extended to about four months.
One important application of precision farming is yield mapping. Yield maps provide site-specific information that can aid in managing fertilizer and pesticide rates. Yield maps consist of two variables, the crop spot yield (pounds) and the position (longitude, latitude) of that yield in the field.
The ability of farmers to burn sugarcane is a significant economic factor for the state’s sugarcane industry. Burning of sugarcane before harvest eliminates from 30 percent to 50 percent of the leafy trash (residue), which constitutes from 20 percent to 25 percent of the total weight of the plant.
The comprehensive research program in sugarcane at the LSU AgCenter results from cooperative relationships with many organizations and institutions. Two prominent cooperators in Louisiana are the American Sugar Cane League, headquartered in Thibodaux, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service’s Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma.
Mechanization of harvest was a major turning point in Louisiana sugarcane production. Harvesters were developed that would cut whole stalks of sugarcane and drop them across rows. Within the past five years, however, another major change has occurred in the sugarcane harvesting system used in Louisiana. Sugarcane is now harvested with what are known as “chopper” or “combine” harvesters.
The Louisiana sugar industry, with its long history and rich tradition, is a vital component of the unique culture of south Louisiana. The industry, which celebrated its bicentennial in 1995, is made up of nearly 700 family farms that produced more than 1.5 million tons of sugar from 460,000 acres of sugarcane in 2000.
Weeds are a major factor limiting production of sugarcane in Louisiana. The battle for water, light, nutrients and space between weeds and the crop can reduce sugarcane stalk population and yield. Sugarcane differs from other crops in that at least three harvests, and in some cases four to five harvests, are made from a single planting.
Louisiana is following a voluntary approach to managing potential nonpoint-source pollution from agriculture. This strategy focuses on education as the means to increase the adoption of best management practices (BMPs), which are those agricultural practices designed to preserve, conserve and even improve the natural environment.
This is the sugar mill at St. James, one of 17 in the state. According to the LSU AgCenter’s Agricultural Summary for 2000, sugarcane was grown on 491,994 acres, which was a new record for the Louisiana sugar industry. An estimated 457,554 acres were harvested for sugar, with a total production of 1,549,198 tons of sugar.
A product made from Louisiana sugar that may help reduce the incidence of poultry-borne food poisoning, as well as help slow the emergence of drug-resistant pathogens, is under investigation at the Audubon Sugar Institute.
Soil fertility and plant nutrition research are important components of the LSU AgCenter’s sugarcane research efforts. With tight economic conditions and increasing concern for the environment, it is important that the nutritional needs of sugarcane be met without applying excess nutrients. To meet this challenge, the LSU AgCenter maintains a rigorous program for examining the nutritional needs of the recommended sugarcane varieties on the major soil groups where sugarcane is grown.
Integrated pest management (IPM) has two distinctive components—economic protection from pest damage and a more favorable environmental outcome than would occur in the absence of IPM. Integrated pest management is a dynamic process and involves balance among biological, cultural and chemical measures deemed most appropriate to a particular situation after careful study of all factors involved.
Only a small percentage of the more than 75,000 acres of sugarcane fallow land in Louisiana is planted annually to rotational crops. Most sugarcane growers traditionally have used the fallow period for three purposes.
A sugarcane variety begins as a single seedling. Stalks from that initial plant are then cut and planted, and the buds along the stalks germinate and grow to produce new plants. This increase through cutting and planting of stalks, or “seedcane,” continues until the variety may be grown in many fields across the state.
The Mexican rice borer was introduced in 1980 from Mexico into the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where it soon became a serious pest of sugarcane. In 1987, the Mexican rice borer was detected in Jackson and Victoria counties of the Texas Rice Belt. In 2000, LSU AgCenter and Texas A&M scientists cooperated in setting out pheromone traps to determine the Mexican rice borer spread since 1987.
Sugarcane has been an integral part of the South Louisiana economy and culture for more than 200 years. When the Jesuit priests first brought sugarcane to Louisiana in 1751, little did they know that they were laying the foundation for an industry that now contributes $2 billion to the Louisiana economy.
Sugarcane sweetens the Louisiana economy with about a $2 billion contribution each year. That’s the result of the efforts of about 750 producers in 23 parishes (in blue) growing sugarcane on more than 450,000 acres. There are 17 sugar mills in Louisiana and two refineries—one in Gramercy and the other in Chalmette. Louisiana produces about 16 percent of the total sugar grown in the United States (includes both beet and sugarcane sugar).