Harry L. Laws & Company: Donation fuels future of sugarcane research

Kenneth Gautreaux, Morgan, Johnny W.

A man inserts a tool into dirt at the bottom of sugarcane plants in a large container.

LSU AgCenter postdoc researcher Dipendra Shahi gathers data using a specialized scanner. Photo provided by Niranjan Baisakh.

Woven into the success of Louisiana’s sugarcane industry is the LSU AgCenter’s sugarcane variety development program. For nearly a century, sugarcane breeders have worked diligently to come up with better varieties that can stand up to pests and weather challenges.

To help in this endeavor, Harry L. Laws & Company, the majority owner of the Catherine Sugar Company, is creating a nonendowed fund to further research at the LSU AgCenter.

The $250,000 fund, which will be known as the Harry L. Laws & Company Sugarcane Molecular Research Fund, will provide support relating to molecular research in sugarcane at the Sugar Research Station, the LSU School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, and the LSU Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, which includes equipment purchases.

This donation is expected to improve sugarcane genetic research and help with selecting new varieties.

“We’ve been beneficiaries of the sugar business for 150 years, and we felt compelled to provide additional resources to the AgCenter specifically for the sugarcane variety development program,” said Drew Maciasz, Harry L. Laws & Company president and CEO.

Sugarcane has been grown in Louisiana since 1795. With the production success of the 2022 crop, Louisiana became the top sugarcane producing state, surpassing Florida which has a climate more conducive to growing this tropical plant.

Farmers also are able to produce greater yields on less land because of improved varieties.

“It’s been the main driver for doubling yields between 1930 and 1970. And then again, we doubled yields between 1970 and today,” said Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist. “So, the breeding program has been a big driver toward yield increase, not the only thing increasing yield, but a big driver.”

This gift will help lay the foundation for sugar yield gains for the next 50 years by providing scientists additional tools to carry out molecular breeding research, which can improve the accuracy of selection within the commercial sugarcane breeding program.

“Genomic selection predicts the genetic value of an experimental sugarcane variety without the confounding effects of the environment,” Gravois said.

This research derived from this donation also can help extend the life cycle of each planting. Most farmers are getting three to five crops from a single planting. Some of the equipment being purchased through the donation may help scientists identify traits to extend the crop cycle.

“This kind of equipment is essential to do this type of research, so it’s an important step to accomplish and can be one of the most difficult to achieve,” Jeff Hoy, LSU AgCenter sugarcane researcher and plant pathologist.

Being able to extend the crop cycle is significant because planting is one of the most expensive components of sugarcane production.

Harry L. Laws & Company has been committed to the sugar industry for 150 years, both as a landowner and as a processor, having operated the Cinclare Central Factory for more than a century.

“We firmly understand and value the partnership between research, efficient farm management and support of stakeholders to make the sugar industry a continued success,” Maciasz said.

Louisiana’s cane farmers, millers and landowners have always understood the importance of research and the necessity to provide financial and in-kind support for this work, said Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League.

“While the whole industry supports this work, some make additional commitments to targeted research initiatives,” he said. “Harry L. Laws & Company perfectly understands how crucial research is to our industry’s success.”

Simon said the company’s significant commitment to the Sugarcane Molecular Research Fund will go a long way to help foster this new and exciting technique in sugarcane variety development.

The donation highlights the three-way collaboration between the AgCenter, the American Sugar Cane League and a private company with the goal of benefiting the entire industry.

Maciasz noted that sugarcane, “provides a $4 billion impact to the state, a $25 billion dollar impact to the U.S. economy, and it provides an essential ingredient for everybody to enjoy.”

12/4/2023 2:52:56 PM
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