Sugarcane varieties, management strategies discussed at field days

Bruce Schultz  |  7/26/2019 7:27:21 PM

JEANERETTE, La. — Sugarcane growers heard from several experts on growing the crop during LSU AgCenter field days in St. Martinville and Jeanerette recently (July 19 and 23).

Atticus Finger, sugarcane breeder for the American Sugar Cane League, and Michael Pontif, LSU AgCenter sugarcane breeder, talked about two new varieties of cane: L 12-201 and Ho 12-615.

Finger said the Ho 12-615 has second-year stubbling capability comparable to the popular L 01-299 variety.

Both new varieties respond well to ripeners, he said, and they appeared to stand up well to the winds of Hurricane Barry.

Mills will like L 12-201 because it is low in fiber, but insects will like it too for the same reason, he said. “The bugs love it and you will need an insecticide.”

Blake Wilson, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said the new variety L 12-201 is very susceptible to sugarcane borers, while Ho 12-615 has moderate resistance to the pest. He told farmers that the warm winter will result in increased insect pressure.

Wilson is conducting research on the invasive tawny crazy ant to determine how its presence in cane fields will affect the crop. Tawny crazy ants tend to drive out fire ants, which are predators of the sugarcane borer. Early indications show the tawny crazy ant also is a predator of the borer.

Wilson said the Mexican rice borer was found last year in the Bayou Teche region as its range expands eastward. He said the insect tends to attack cane more severely during drought.

Jeff Hoy, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said billet planting continues to develop, and more billet planters are being designed and sold. “There’s a lot of progress being made.”

Hoy said smut is showing up in L 01-299. He said 25% of the plants in a Vermilion Parish field had the disease recently.

“If you ignore it, it will build up on you,” Hoy said.

The quality product produced by the state’s cane seed program is preventing many disease problems, according to Hoy.

Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist, said the stubbling productivity of cane has increased significantly through the years. He said 17% of the Louisiana crop is in third-year stubble or older.

Jim Simon, president of the American Sugar Cane League, said Louisiana’s delivered cane acreage this year is estimated at 450,000, and it’s expected to increase to 467,000 by 2020 and 480,000 in 2021.

“We’ve got a healthy industry right now,” Simon said.

He advised farmers to hold some of their profits in reserve to prepare for less-prosperous times, and he also encouraged them to consider crop insurance.

Simon said the suspension agreement with Mexico will have to be renewed soon. “Our attorneys think this is a low hurdle to clear.”

Mike Deliberto, LSU AgCenter economist, said Florida’s cane acreage has declined by 1% in the past year compared to Louisiana’s 7% increase. Demand for raw cane sugar has increased while demand for fructose, such as corn sugar, has decreased. He also said sugar imports have decreased by 5%, a result of the agreement with Mexico.

Justin McNeal, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said cane fared well during Hurricane Barry. Some cane and late-planted soybeans were flooded, he said. Disaster declarations for the worst-hit areas will be determined soon. He advised farmers to photograph any crop damage.

Al Orgeron, LSU AgCenter pest management specialist, gave an overview of different weed control strategies. He said research has shown that nutsedge weeds exudes a chemical that prevents nearby plants from germinating.

Orgeron said 17 deaths from exposure to the herbicide paraquat since 2000 have resulted in a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permitting process for users of that chemical. Passing an online test as well as being a certified private or commercial applicator will be required to become certified to use the chemical, he said.

The Jeanerette field day started at the LSU AgCenter Iberia Research Station, where farmers heard from U.S. Department of Agriculture agronomist Paul LeBlanc, who said cover crops can help provide organic matter to the soil. He said new beneficial microorganisms develop in soil where cover crops are grown, and they compete with undesirable microorganisms. LeBlanc also said soil compaction is a limiting factor for plants to get adequate moisture.

Naveen Adusumilli, LSU AgCenter economist, showed farmers a program that can be used to determine if compensation by the Natural Resources Conservation Service will cover the cost of growing a cover crop.

LSU AgCenter agronomist Sonny Viator, who is preparing to retire, reviewed a 22-year AgCenter study of sugarcane crop residue management. He said burning that material after harvest results in more cane, approximately 4.5 tons per acre, and more sugar, about 1,000 additional pounds per acre. In addition, more organic matter is created by burning, Viator said.

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Sonny Viator, LSU AgCenter agronomist, talks at the Iberia Research Station during a recent field day about the benefits of burning cane harvest residue. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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Atticus Finger, sugarcane breeder for the American Sugar Cane League, tells growers at an LSU AgCenter field day near St. Martinville about two new cane varieties. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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