Weather, disease, labor issues highlight sugarcane field day

Tobie Blanchard, Levy, Ronnie, Gravois, Kenneth, Griffin, James L., Hoy, Jeffrey W., Pontif, Michael J., Salassi, Michael

News Release Distributed 07/19/13

ST. GABRIEL, La. – Louisiana’s unusual winter and spring weather affected this year’s sugarcane crop. “We had a global warming January and an ice age March,” said Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist. “We went from a crop that was a month ahead of schedule to a month behind.”

Gravois says the state won’t see a record-breaking crop like last year’s, but he believes yields will fall within the five-year state average.

Gravois also showed farmers equipment that will give them another option for controlling residue from clipping their stubble crops, which may be damaged by freezes.

“If we’ve had a killing freeze and the crop is killed back, we need to clip that off. If growers clip, many of them light a match and burn the residue,” Gravois said. “We can often hurt yield by two or three tons per acre.”

Gravois said the mowers on display have mulchers that finely shred the clippings so farmers don’t have to burn them.

The economics of using fungicides when the price of sugar is down was one of the topics covered by LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Jeff Hoy.

The disease brown rust has been a problem for a few years. He said the disease is very adaptable and has been overcoming the varieties’ resistance.

Orange rust is another disease that sugarcane farmers are starting to see. “It comes in later in the season and has the potential to cause more yield loss,” Hoy said.

Farmers also heard how they can grow soybeans on their fallow land without sacrificing weed control. LSU AgCenter weed scientist Jim Griffin said the importance of the fallow program is to control weeds. He said farmers may see bermudagrass growing between rows of soybeans grown on sugarcane land.

“Growers need to consider coming in there with a drop nozzle and treating the middle,” Griffin said. “If you allow bermudagrass to come in, you’ve eliminated the benefit of the fallow period.”

LSU AgCenter soybean specialist Ronnie Levy said sugarcane farmers planting soybeans on fallow ground may need to use an inoculum on the seed to help the soybeans fix nitrogen from the atmosphere.

Sugar prices have fallen, and Mike Salassi, an LSU AgCenter economist, said sugarcane farmers may be able to get additional income by planting soybeans.

Michael Pontif, LSU AgCenter assistant sugarcane breeder, told farmers about a new variety, Ho 07-613, that may be released next year.

“It has high sugar level, which is one of the main things we look for, and good tonnage. And good- sized stalk,” Pontif said. It’s a good bet to get released next year.”

Louisiana sugarcane farmers have seven variety choices. “These seven varieties grown in the state produced record numbers last year. So we want farmers to continue doing what they are doing. We don’t want them to get too high in one variety for percentage of acreage,” Pontif said.

Ho 07-613 also has resistance to the disease rust which has become an issue in in the variety Ho CP 96-540, which is grown on more acres than any other variety in the state.

The program also featured a presentation on sugarcane labor issues by Randy Bracy, owner of Bracy’s Nursery, LLC. in Amite City.

Bracy said the immigration bill before Congress could bring changes to the H2A migrant worker rules, which he said are overdue.

Louisiana is second in the nation in the use of H2A labor, only behind North Carolina, Bracy said.

“We just can’t find local workers to do the work, so we have to turn to H2A labor, who can come in and work for 10 months at a time,” Bracy said. “But the paperwork is almost impossible.”

The Department of Labor’s rules require that local and domestic workers be given an equal shot at these jobs.

“But only five percent of local workers make it to the end of the contract,” Bracy said. “If you hired 100 local workers, only five would make it to the end of the contract.”

Tobie Blanchard and Johnny Morgan

7/19/2013 7:32:33 PM
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