January 26, 2022
The Louisiana State University AgCenter Sugar Research Station breeds and tests hundreds of varieties of sugarcane to boost yield and resistance to pests and diseases.
The research station, in St. Gabriel, La., sits on approximately 600 acres and performs the groundwork necessary to develop a new variety. Professors, specialists, research associates, maintenance and janitorial staff, and coordinators work together toward a common goal.
“The process of selecting the top sugarcane variety takes nearly 12 years from start to finish,” Kenneth Gravois, LSU sugarcane production specialist said.
Gravois said one acre of sugarcane cuttings can plant roughly five to seven acres of harvestable cane for processing, depending on the time of harvest and seeding rates.
Gravois, who grew up farming sugarcane with his family, earned his bachelor’s degree in agronomy and crop science, a master’s degree in plant breeding and genetics, and a Ph.D., from LSU.
In addition to his role as the LSU sugarcane production specialist, he is the secretary/treasurer for the American Society of Sugarcane Technologists and heavily involved in improving the sugarcane industry from every angle.
While the basic principle of processing sugarcane remains relatively unchanged, technology continues to emerge and improve the industry overall.
“Since the late 1960s to now, the field yields have nearly doubled,” Gravois said. “Sugarcane is still the number one valued crop in Louisiana and vital to our economy.”
Processing mills work around the clock to coordinate raw cane deliveries from each farmer, in efforts to minimize field losses and ensure all growers have equal opportunities to get their cane processed in a timely fashion. Allowing the various growers to process a specific quota for the day ensures all growers share the risk of losing crops as the harvest season progresses.
The American Sugar Cane League says sugarcane remains Louisiana’s leading row crop and employs nearly 17,000 jobs throughout the state.
While improvements in automation and technology continue to reduce labor and manpower, the building blocks for a successful sugarcane season start with the seed.
The breeding program, a joint effort between the LSU AgCenter Research Station, the American Sugar Cane League and USDA/ARS, works to develop new sugarcane genetics that will optimize yield and keep the sugar industry thriving.
The group works to create and study varieties of sugarcane to benefit growers across the region.
“The first goal is to create a variety of sugarcane that is high yielding,” Gravois said. “The second goal is to maintain yield.”
The focus of the breeding program is to produce a variety of sugarcane that is resistant to various pests and diseases, thus reducing yield loss in the field. Each variety is extensively studied and only the top performing varieties proceed to the next stage of testing.
After testing at the research facility, a selected variety will be planted on roughly ten farms throughout the state. Production data is gathered on the variety by the research station.
If the variety does well in the field tests it is eventually marketed for commercial use.
“Molasses is primarily used in the animal feed industry,” Gravois said, when asked due to concerns with the recent addition of craft distilleries throughout the state.
Role of the three organizations involved in the breeding program vary, but the goal is the same, to provide growers with the best genetics, information and resources required for a successful cane season.
The LSU AgCenter Sugar Research Station provides information to the public through various publications, partnerships, conferences, and other forms of media. There is a field day every year in July to educate farmers on the most recent technology being utilized in the industry. Sugarcane variety performance reports, soil fertility and sugarcane ripener recommendations, along with cover crops specific for the sugarcane industry can be found in online publications.
The American Sugar Cane League (ASCL) is a non-profit organization that dates to 1922 and was incorporated to help combat diseases throughout the state. The league also participates in legislative matters at the state and national level, issues publications on topics like research or farming practices, and helps educate the public.
The USDA/ARS Sugarcane Research Unit is currently advancing several projects that include watershed management, winter cover crops, genomics and genetic improvements, improving production, plant diseases, and crop protection practices.
Another resource is the American Society of Sugar Cane Technologists with two major divisions, Florida and Louisiana. ASSCT studies the sugar cane industry in the United States and provides information to members through meetings and various publications.
Members include representatives of the agriculture or manufacturing side of the industry. The Louisiana and Florida Division of the ASSCT will host an annual meeting in early February 2022 at Baton Rouge, along with the American Sugar Cane League.
For more details on upcoming events, new technology, new varieties, upcoming meetings, public workshops, specific projects and more, visit the resources below.
LSU Sugar Research Station
5755 LSU Ag Rd
St. Gabriel, La. 70776
American Sugar Cane League
P. O. Drawer 938
206 East Bayou Rd.
Thibodaux, La. 70301
USDA Agricultural Research Service, Sugarcane Research Unit
5883 USDA Road
Houma, La. 70360
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