Two new sugarcane varieties, L 12-201 and Ho 12-615, were released earlier this year. Michael Pontif, LSU AgCenter sugarcane breeder, said 201 is a mid-maturing variety that has good sugar recovery and responds well to ripeners. The variety has lower fiber, making it more susceptible to borer insects, which tunnel into the stalk and damage the cane. James Todd, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sugarcane Research Unit, said 615 has high tonnage, is high in sugarcane per acre, is resistant to borers and shows good disease resistance.
Blake Wilson, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said the focus of the sugarcane entomology program is controlling the two major insect pests of sugarcane: the sugarcane borer and the Mexican rice borer. If not managed, these pests can cause a 30% decrease in yield. Wilson said an integrated pest management system that includes chemical control, resistant varieties, biological control and cultural practices works best to control the insects. Red imported fire ants offer biological control, but Wilson warned that tawny crazy ants are pushing fire ant populations out of some fields. A new variety released this year, Ho 12-615, shows good resistance to the borers, but this needs further evaluation on a commercial scale.
Jeff Hoy, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, is focusing on methods to improve the reliability of using billets to plant the sugarcane crop. Billets are more sensitive than whole stalks to any problem, but farmers soon may be able to use seed treatment chemicals to protect the billets against diseases after planting. Hoy said the threat from mosaic virus is currently low, and growers should be able to plant varieties that are moderately susceptible if they use healthy seed cane. Researchers are developing molecular markers to improve the efficiency of breeding resistant varieties to multiple diseases including mosaic, rust and smut.
Al Orgeron, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, said fallow land is where sugarcane farmers can make leaps and bounds for weed control. “If you don’t take care of your perennial weeds there, then it’s a bust,” he said. Paul White, a research soil scientist with the USDA Sugarcane Research Unit, talked about using cover crops to control weeds, saying they prevent soil erosion and out-compete weeds or shade them out. Orgeron reminded growers about the newly updated paraquat label that will go into effect Nov. 14, 2019, and will require users to complete online training and pass an exam. Users also must be a certified private or commercial pesticide applicator in order to handle, load and apply paraquat.
Brenda Tubaña, LSU AgCenter soil scientist, is working with a sugarcane farmer on a large-scale project funded by the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation to reduce nutrient runoff from crop fields that may contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. She is researching practices that can decrease the amount of fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture.