Researchers study double-drill rows for sugarcane

Bruce Schultz, Gravois, Kenneth  |  7/28/2015 2:24:42 AM

A new piece of equipment that creates two rows of sugarcane on an 8-foot bed is demonstrated at the Lafayette-St. Martin-St. Landry Sugarcane Field Day on July 24. The demonstration was conducted at the Melancon Sugarcane Farms near St. Martinville. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

Farmers and researchers at the field day take a look at the work of equipment used to cover the seed cane and flatten the soil. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

News Release Distributed 07/27/15

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. – The yield advantage of growing double-drill rows of sugarcane on 8-foot beds is being explored by the Louisiana sugar industry, said Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist.

Gravois, speaking at the LSU AgCenter Lafayette-St. Martin-St. Landry Sugarcane Field Day held on July 24, said the higher plant population by growing double-drills of cane on an 8-foot row can provide a yield advantage. “Plant population in Louisiana is the name of the game,” he said.

The centers of the beds are spaced 8 feet apart, compared to the more common method of planting in a wide furrow on beds 6 feet apart.

The extra space between beds allows more sunlight onto the ground, which can support higher plant populations. On the down side, there can be a better opportunity for weeds and grasses to grow, said Paul White, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agronomist.

Farmer Craig Melancon is trying a 20-acre field of the double-drill cane this year. He said growing cane in this new system has been a challenge that has required new equipment, including a row opener to cut a pair of trenches for planting and another piece of equipment to cover the seed cane.

Bill White, USDA entomologist, said the open areas created by double-drills on 8-foot rows will probably result in more fire ant populations. But he said the practice has been used in South Africa and Australia with no differences in insect pest populations.

Jeff Hoy, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, gave details from an ongoing study that compares the practice of using billets for seed cane versus whole stalks.

“You are at risk to have lower yields with billets,” Hoy said.

He said using billets can result in a yield loss by as much as 47 percent, but he said yield gains can be obtained also. The yield losses depend on the variety and soil conditions at the time of planting.

Al Orgeron, LSU AgCenter weed specialist, told farmers that eastern black nightshade should be removed by hand. Herbicides aren’t effective on the weed, he said. “We’ve had complete failures with some herbicide programs applied at planting.”

He said the plant can recover from many herbicides, although young nightshade plants can be controlled with herbicides such as Weedmaster and Brash.

Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, said recent decisions have favored the nation’s sugar industry that has been hurt by the dumping of sugar in the U.S. by Mexico. A hearing will be held Sept. 16 by the International Trade Commission to consider an agreement with Mexico, Simon said. “Our attorneys think the agreement will be ratified.”

He said the current price of sugar is at 24.5 cents to 25.5 cents, but it would be much lower without the pending agreement.

The legal costs of the litigation exceed $1 million, but it will result in a $60 million increase in income, Simon said. The agreement before the ITC would not have been reached without the consensus of the sugar industry behind it, he said. “So it’s critical we all remain unified.”

Simon also said candidates for governor are being asked about their platforms on funding the LSU AgCenter. “Without the variety development programs of LSU and the USDA, we’d be in a difficult situation.”

As for this year’s crop, Gravois said the cane is doing well.

“I think we have a lot to be optimistic about,” he said, adding that rain is needed in many areas, despite the high rainfall totals reported across the state.

Bruce Schultz

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