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Yields good, sugar lower: Louisiana sugarcane harvest advances

Several weeks into Louisiana's sugarcane harvest, there are reports of good yields but lower sugar content.

“People may remember, though, we began the crop in rainy conditions,” says Ben Legendre, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist. “As a result, we had some low sugar yields at the factory.

“Then, when the weather improved (the second week of October), the cane crop looked better. I visited a few mills last week and found throughput to be outstanding. In some cases, the mills couldn't get enough cane. They were processing and grinding so well there wasn't enough in reserve.”

Before the latest rains, several mills reported sugar yields had increased to over 220 pounds per ton. To have an 11 percent recovery in mid-October is “very good.”

That has led many millers to be optimistic that this will be a very good cane crop. Growers are also happy that field yields are improving.

“I was just speaking with an Extension agent from Assumption Parish. Over there, field yields are comparable to last year — and they had some of the best in the state. So, they're looking at a 35- or 36-ton crop. That's outstanding.”

If such yields were seen statewide, Louisiana cane could have the second best crop ever.

“Right now, it's hard to make many definite statements. We'll be harvesting and working mills until the end of December or early January. “

Most growers are pleased with yields of long-popular LCP85384 (better known as 384) in both tons and sugar-per-acre. And they're “very enthusiastic” about the yields of the new varieties (see

One of the new varieties, L 97-128, considered early-maturing and high in sugar “didn't mature as well as folks would like. But one of the mills began grinding in mid-September. All of the mills but one had begun grinding by the end of September.”

Traditionally, the industry didn't begin sugar harvest until Oct. 15. “That puts a lot of pressure on plant breeders to provide varieties that can mature in September and yet have decent yields in tons of cane.”

Most growers are still using glyphosate as a ripener to enhance sucrose content. “Basically all the cane harvested in the first month is treated with glyphosate. It's applied at a sub-lethal dose to regulate plant growth. It allows the plant to stop adding height and concentrate on sucrose.”

How did the crop do with disease and pests this season? “Many thought we'd have problems with sugarcane borer, our major insect pest. But we had ideal conditions during the growing season. Typically, when you have rain like we did this past year, the varieties we're growing are very susceptible to that pest.”

For a long while cane was gaining as much as 1.5 inches of growth per day. Yet very little insecticide was used and a number of growers used no insecticides at all.

As for diseases, about 45 to 50 percent of Louisiana cane is LCP 85-384, which is supposed to be very susceptible to rust. In fact, that disease is one of the main reasons why growers have switched to other varieties, says Legendre.

“Well, it turned out, at the beginning of the season we did see rust in 384 and Ho 95-988, but in the final tally, the rust threat faded. Weather warmed up early and the rust wasn't as big a problem.”

Researchers have found that where rust comes in early in 384 and 988 and stays through mid-summer, as much as 7 tons of cane per acre can be lost. But by June 15, the rust epidemic had faded.

“We visited fields that had been hit early on, but the disease more or less took care of itself. The warmer temperatures and growth of the cane worked in tandem to deal with it.”

Working cooperatively, the LSU AgCenter, the USDA-ARS, SRRC, Sugarcane Research Laboratory and the American Sugar Cane League released a new sugarcane variety this year: HoCP 00-950. “It's the sixth variety we've released in the last four years. Those releases are aimed at providing growers more varietal options after 384 had been planted on 92 percent of our acreage.”

The new varieties are comparable, if not better, than 384 in sugar content. In fact, two of the last varieties released could be as much as 20 to 30 percent better than 384, which has been outstanding in its own right.

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