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SW Region sugarcane field days highlight new varieties, emerging technologies

American Sugarcane League agronomist Wilson Judice outlines the characteristics of two new sugarcane varieties at a sugarcane field day held in Erath on July 30. The two varieties were developed by the LSU AgCenter and the USDA-ARS in Houma. Photos by Derek Albert/LSU AgCenter

(08/15/2022) ERATH, La. — Across Louisiana’s southern sugar belt, producers were given sneak peeks at new sugarcane varieties and developing crop management technologies at a series of sugarcane field days held throughout the LSU AgCenter’s Southwest region in late July.

On July 28, growers from Vermilion, Iberia and St. Mary Parishes gathered here in Erath. On July 22, Acadia, Lafayette, St. Martin and St. Landry met in St. Martinville for their 60th annual event. Growers from Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes assembled in Raceland on July 14.

By Derek Albert, LSU AgCenter

LSU AgCenter researchers, extension agents and officials with the American Sugar Cane League presented the latest developments in the industry that have sweetened Louisiana’s agricultural output for more than 225 years.

As the hot, humid weather reaches its peak in south Louisiana, sugarcane growers are well into this year’s sugarcane planting season. With this formerly manual-labor laden process, sugarcane technologists and growers are testing a new technology that, if viable, can streamline the cane-planting method. In the 1990s, the Louisiana sugarcane industry first saw the switch from whole-stalk sugarcane harvesters to combine harvesters—machines designed to harvest, clean and cut cane stalks into smaller pieces, called billets. Combine harvesters, now ubiquitous throughout the state’s sugarcane industry, are now being used to cut sugarcane that will be planted. Vermilion Parish farmer Charles Guidry has experimented with billet planters in his operation since 2016. He told farmers who gathered at his farm his modified billet planter performs three functions on three rows at a time. It opens the row to create a seedbed; drops the seed cane onto the seed bed, and applies fungicide. He said there are three key aspects that they need to monitor when employing this burgeoning technique.

“Number one: moisture is very important,” Guidry told his fellow producers. “When billet cane is planted, it has to start its root system as early as possible.”

Guidry’s other two tenets to achieving a good stand of billet-planted cane is proper timing and a three-to-one planting ratio. He said three acres of seed to one acre of standing cane is the formula that has worked for him during the past five planting seasons. The American Sugar Cane League Agronomist Wilson Judice said when it comes to timing billet plantings, late August through September is optimal.

At all of the Southwest Region sugarcane field days, Judice and fellow AMSCL agronomist Atticus Finger introduced growers to two new varieties developed by researchers at the LSU AgCenter Sugar Research Station in St. Gabriel, La. and the USDA-ARS Facility in Houma, La. L 15-306 and HoL 15-508 mark a first for AgCenter sugarcane breeders—two varieties from the same series with the same parent varieties.

“They both good varieties,’ Judice told the growers in St. Martinville. “(L-15) 306 is a little bit better on tonnage, but (HoL 15-) 508 edges it out with sugar per ton; it’s probably one of the sweetest varieties we’ve ever released,” Judice said.

LSU AgCenter sugarcane weed science specialist Al Orgeron and AgCenter agronomist Andre Reis demonstrated the use of emerging drone technology in applying herbicides to sugarcane fields. Drone applications are becoming a more integral part of AgCenter research into precision agriculture practices, Reis explained.

“This can address situations where you have a localized infestation of some weed, and you don’t need to apply herbicide to the entire field to control that,” Reis said. “That’s going to help you target your area where you need control of something in particular.”

Orgeron also outlined his research work into applying reopeners to sugarcane using drone rigs. When beginning these field trials Orgeron said everything was based on guesswork. From flight height to application rates and how far the sprayers could actually penetrate the canopy of the fields was unknown. Orgeron said field tests in Cheneyville, La. showed the drone-applied ripener was as effective as traditional sprayer applications.

LSU AgCenter agronomist Andre Reis describes the post-harvest residue management modifications mace to the combine harvester in the background. This technology was on display at the sugarcane field day event held in St. Martinville on July 22, Photo by Derek Albert /LSU AgCenter

Reis has also been helping farmers manage post-harvest sugarcane residue. The leaves, or shucks, on a sugarcane stalk is removed by the combine harvesters and usually deposited in the fields as the crop is harvested. Reis has worked with growers Mike Melancon, of St, Martin Parish, and Buddy and Burt Oubre, of Iberia Parish, to modify their combine to make the organic harvest waste work to their advantage. With a fan-assisted chute system installed to the machines, the residue is deposited in front of the combines tracks as it harvests. Buddy Oubre told growers this keeps the combine tracks from accumulating mud and residue. Reis said this also keeps residue from depositing on top of the rows which can negatively affect ratoon crop growth.

“The row top has significantly less residue than the traditional machines,” Reis said of the prototype’s field trials. “The majority of the residue now is in the row furrow.”

Reis said more data will be collected for this year’s harvest to analyze the amount of residue that is making it into the cane carts that are headed to the mills for processing and how incorporating the residue into the soil may benefit the soil’s constituency for subsequent crops.

John Deere Thibodaux Representative Michael Reich also introduced growers to some technology that can help growers better monitor their bottom line at harvest time. John Deere has released Harvest Monitor™, an overhead camera system that Reich said can accurately measure and report the tonnage of sugarcane that a combine is harvesting. This technology can allow growers to monitor the weight of the cane that is being loaded into wagons and trucks. But Reich also said this technology can help answer questions that farmers have about early-season inputs based on yield-mapping data.

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