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Area cane farmers meet for sugarcane field days

Area sugarcane producers gathered at the Louisiana Sugarcane Cooperative (LASUCA) factory in St. Martinville to hear the latest from researchers at the 63rd LSU AgCenter St. Martin, Lafayette & Acadia Parishes Sugarcane Field Day on July 21.

By V. Todd Miller, LSU AgCenter

In the field, farmers saw a demonstration of a new fertilizing rig technique and were advised on the sugarcane breeding program. For the indoor program, scientists from the LSU AgCenter and Houma’s United States Department of Agriculture Sugarcane Research Unit discussed weed and insect control and sugar level prediction using infrared technology and drones. Jim Simon, manager of the American Sugar Cane League, gave an update on sugar domestic policy.

The St. Martinville sugarcane field day was one of several field days hosted by the LSU AgCenter.

LSU AgCenter entomologist Blake Wilson noted that the wireworm pest is difficult to predict when it will strike sugarcane.

“There hasn’t been much research done on wireworms in the past,” Wilson said. “The reason is because they are soil insects that live underground throughout their life cycle, and infestations tend to be highly sporadic and hard to predict.”

Wilson said that unlike sugarcane borer larvae that can be reared in large numbers in a lab, wireworms have to be field collected.

“Historically, they’ve been considered a pest of plant cane, reducing emergence in the fall,” he said. “However, we’ve got a lot of recent observations that suggest they can continue to impact sugarcane plant stands throughout the crop cycle, reducing ratooning ability in first and second ratoon crops as well.”

American Sugar Cane League manager Jim Simon said a big focus of the sugar industry is to help get a new national farm bill passed in Congress.

“Provisions in the farm bill will allow sugarcane to have its policies in place through the current crop year so we’re good for now but we’d like for Congress to pass a farm bill this year,” Simon said.

At the July 19 sugarcane field day held at the AgCenter Sugar Research Station in St. Gabriel, sugarcane breeders Collins Kimbeng and Michael Pontif said although eight new commercial varieties have been released in the last five years, no new cane varieties will be released for 2023.

Pontif said the mission statement of the breeding station is to improve upon existing commercial varieties in the sugar industry. So, if there is a variety that goes all the way through the program and doesn’t meet expectations, the researchers are forced to discard it.

“We hate to do it, but if they’re not acceptable or not beating the varieties we already have out there, then there’s no reason to release them,” he said. “We’re improving varieties. We’re not keeping the status quo.”

According to Pontif, this will be a crucial year to determine if variety 17-738 is good enough to be released next year and put in the field with varieties like 299, 885, 306 and 267.

At the July 11 Assumption Parish field day held in Napoleonville, AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois gave a positive crop update in spite of the mid-March freeze.

“Our varieties can withstand these spring freezes, so we got off to a good start with a dry, late winter and spring, which allows the crop to tiller out, so we had good stands,” Gravois said. “Then June and July were hot and dry. If you got rain, you had a better crop, but if you missed the rain, your crop is a little bit behind.”

Sugarcane is a resilient crop, he said, so if the region starts getting more rain, those crops that may have missed it earlier in the year can bounce back.

Matt Lee, the recently appointed LSU vice president for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, said sugarcane was well positioned for the future.

“Our scientists, engineers, staff and extension agents have all been working to lay the groundwork of what I believe is a new era at the AgCenter to help support the industry,” Lee said. “The feedback and opportunities producers give us as we work together will shape the direction we take in a state that is leading the industry nationally in sugarcane production.”

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