by Herman Waguespack, Senior Agronomist, American Sugar Cane League
As we ease into prime sugarcane growing season, farmers from Rapides Parish all the way to Terrebonne and Calcasieu report good spring stands of sugarcane despite the abnormally wet winter of 2015.
It was feared the rutted fields created by the 2015 wet harvest conditions would damage cane roots but milder weather allowed farmers to get into the fields to drain water and repair rows. The ruts appear to have had less impact in stubble fields than anticipated. Stubble is the term cane farmers use to describe the regrowth from the roots of sugarcane stalks that had been previously planted. Since sugarcane is a grass and will continue to grow just like a lawn, farmers can often get three or four years’ worth of crops from one planting depending on how vigorously the stubble regrows after the cane has been harvested.
There were no hard freezes this winter in most of the Cane Belt so vulnerable fields where cane roots might have been freeze damaged were spared from early “plow-out.” Farmers are sometimes forced to plow out damaged cane roots because they believe the fields will be underproductive. Happily, some growers reported they plan to allow more acres of second or third year stubble to grow to maturity which means they can have a slightly lighter planting in the fall.
The majority of acreage planted last season looks exceptionally good for this time of the year. Some fields are planted with cane varieties that are prone to “rust,” a plant disease that makes the cane leaves look brown to the eye. A variety of weather conditions contribute to the outbreak of rust symptoms but the condition can be controlled with fungicide treatments.
Cane farmers are currently in the process of fertilizing the crop. The recent April downpours kept growers out of the fields and put them behind in their field work. That’s part of the farmer’s life, but given favorable weather, they’ll be able to catch up. By all accounts, the 2016 crop shows good potential.
In 2015, Louisiana’s sugarcane farmers harvested more than 380,000 acres of cane which produced 1.4 million tons of raw sugar. The economic impact of the crop was $2 billion.