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AgCenter meetings help sugarcane farmers prepare for 2018 crop

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sugarcane cart in snow

(01/31/18) NAPOLEONVILLE, La. — Louisiana sugarcane farmers just finished a memorable year — one that saw them harvesting cane on a rare snow day in December and set a record for the most sugar produced in state history.

By Olivia McClure. LSU AgCenter

Farmers are now turning their attention to their next crop, and the LSU AgCenter is hosting a series of meetings to help them get ready. Experts with the AgCenter and other entities have been addressing a wide range of topics.

"Very few people can appreciate what it takes to make a good crop of cane,” AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois said at a meeting held Jan. 30 in at the AgCenter office in Assumption Parish.

This year’s growing season will start with some uncertainty about the effects of a deep freeze and ice that hit Louisiana around Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is unclear if plant cane — sugarcane that was planted in late summer to start the next crop — was damaged.

"We won’t know until the crop starts moving,” Gravois said. "But for as cold as we got with the MLK freeze, the duration wasn’t that long, so hopefully we dodged a bullet.”

He said Louisiana farmers grew about 440,000 acres of sugarcane in 2017, up about 10,000 acres from the year before. The crop yielded about 15 million tons of cane — the second-highest amount ever — and a record-high 1.82 million tons of sugar.

"When you can put high tonnage and high sugar together, that’s rare,” Gravois said.

Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, said at the meeting that the bumper crop came at a good time.

"It tells them we need all the allocation we have,” Simon said, referring to the amount of sugar that Louisiana is allowed to market.

Attendees of the meeting also heard from AgCenter weed scientist Al Orgeron, who spoke about Armezon, a herbicide that was approved in September for use in sugarcane. It can control some post-emergence grass and broadleaf weeds, including bermudagrass, a common problem in cane fields.

The herbicide slows growth of bermudagrass for two to four weeks, but does not entirely eliminate the weed, Orgeron stressed.

"It’s not a silver bullet,” he said. "It will give you some suppression. Don’t think you’re going to apply this product by itself and knock out bermudagrass in one application, even multiple applications.”

Orgeron also talked about cover crops, which are planted reduce erosion and improve nutrient content of the soil. He is studying whether cover crops can reduce the amount of soil lost while sugarcane is in the early stages of growth and much of the field is bare, and how well they tolerate herbicides used on sugarcane.

Rich Johnson, a soil scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urged farmers to check their soil pH and use lime to adjust it to the proper level — ideally, about 6.5.

"You want to maximize your nutrient availability,” Johnson said, explaining why managing pH is critical. "Another reason is to reduce aluminum and manganese toxicity,” which can hinder root development.

Johnson also said he has seen sulfur deficiencies in cane fields recently, and scientists are studying whether sulfur recommendations should be updated.

Upcoming meeting dates and locations are as follows:

— Feb. 5, 9 a.m., Scott Civic Center, 1200 Major Parkway, New Roads.

— Feb. 5 to 7, Crowne Plaza, 4728 Constitution Ave., Baton Rouge (American Society of Sugar Cane Technologists and American Sugar Cane League meetings).

— Feb. 14 to 16, Paragon Casino Resort, 711 Paragon Place, Marksville (Louisiana Agricultural Consultants Association meeting).

— Feb. 20, 9:30 a.m., Westbank Reception Hall, 2455 La. Highway 18, Vacherie.

— Feb. 27, 9 a.m., Ward 8 School, 803 Hubertville Road, Jeanerette.

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