LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois holds a sugarcane billet ndash a section of a stalk ndash as he describes how different billet lengths can be used in planting sugarcane Photo by Olivia McClureLSU AgCenter

LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois holds a sugarcane billet – a section of a stalk – as he describes how different billet lengths can be used in planting sugarcane. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

Sugarcane field day: new varieties, weed control, markets

Report from the LSU AgCenter sugar field day. Various components of industry discussed and updated.

Two potential new sugarcane varieties for Louisiana are entering their final year of evaluation, LSU AgCenter plant breeders told producers and industry representatives at the 33rd annual sugar field day on July 15 at the AgCenter Sugar Research Station.

“HoCP 09-804 and Ho 09-840 both should be on tap for release next year,” said AgCenter sugarcane breeder Michael Pontif.

“If the sugar level is not there, we don’t release a variety,” Pontif said. “Sugar is the main reason for a release.”

Both potential releases have high sugar content and smaller stalks.

Louisiana farmers plant about eight “core varieties” that allow them to choose characteristics that are appropriate for their farms, Pontif said.

The leading varieties are HoCP 96-540, which is planted on 37 percent of the Louisiana acreage, and L 01-299, planted on 22 percent of the acres. HoCP 96-540 has been the most-planted for many years, and L 01-299 is good on heavy land with strong, erect stalks.

The economics of handling harvested sugarcane and the costs of planting are important considerations when farmers select the varieties they plant, said Collins Kimbeng, AgCenter sugarcane breeder. “The economics in planting are highest costs, and having a variety that plants well and establishes well is key.”

Because sugarcane plants are perennial, growers can harvest for three or more years following the initial planting. “They want something that will give more seasons that extends the crop cycle before replanting,” Kimbeng said.

AgCenter entomologist Julien Beuzelin gave an update on sugarcane insects. He is seeing high populations this year. The leading insects are sugarcane borer and Mexican rice borer.

Blake Wilson, AgCenter research associate, said Mexican rice borer is making inroads in southwest Louisiana and has been moving about 15 miles per year since first identified in the state in 2008.

Researchers are screening sugarcane varieties for Mexican rice borer resistance in East Texas, said graduate student Matthew VanWeelden. The variety HoCP 04-838 has been identified as susceptible.

AgCenter entomologists recommend considering sugarcane borer and Mexican rice borer as a complex of stem-boring species and treating them together through integrated pest management programs.

An integrated pest management program includes choosing resistant varieties, following good management practices, conserving natural enemies and using insecticides when necessary.

More than seven insecticides are available, offering several modes of action to avoid creating resistance, Beuzelin said.

Kenneth Gravois, AgCenter sugarcane specialist, talked about billet planting and wider rows. “A combination of improvements to combines and planters along with seed treatments is closing the yield gap between whole-stalk-planted and billet-planted sugarcane. Research is there to help.”

Gravois has seen benefits from treating cane at planting with a combination of four chemicals -- one insecticide and three fungicides. Jeff Hoy, AgCenter plant pathologist, is working to identify insecticides and fungicides that can establish and overwinter in stands of newly planted sugarcane.

Controlled-release coated urea offers benefits of less nitrogen loss in sugarcane fields, said Brenda Tubana, AgCenter soil scientist.

The nitrogen cycle is dynamic and needs to be considered when planning a fertilizer program, said graduate student Marilyn Dalen.

“Choose the right source of nitrogen and the right way of applying it,” Tubana said. “You have to manage nitrogen by applying the right source at the right rate.”

A critical time to control persistent, perennial weeds is when the field is fallow and unplanted between crops, said Al Orgeron, AgCenter weed scientist. He recommends at least one application of Roundup herbicide before planting.

Eastern black nightshade is a weed species moving into Louisiana, he said. “We need to be mindful of it.”

It’s easier to control in plant cane in fall than in spring. “Use a program that addresses the weed problems on your farm,” Orgeron said. “Start with a clean field and keep it clean.”

Feral hogs continue to be a problem throughout Louisiana, said Glen Gentry, AgCenter reproductive physiologist. Gentry is leading a program of finding ways to control the growing hog population. One approach is to use sodium nitrite as a bait that can kill hogs but not harm other wildlife.

His current project is encapsulating the chemical with an additive that will attract hogs and not other animals. Dehydrated pogie fish appears to be a leading candidate, but he needs to conduct research to assure the attractant and accompanying dosage are not harmful to other animals.

Gentry has enlisted the help of AgCenter researcher Zhijun Liu and his medicinal plants laboratory to develop a way of packaging the bait and attractant that will not degrade the sodium nitrite.

Bill Richardson, LSU Vice President for Agriculture, commented on the legislative session, saying the AgCenter started out with an 82 percent cut and ended up with a flat budget. He expressed thanks to the producers for the work and support they gave.

“We have to continue to fight for agriculture and for the things we’re doing,” Richardson said.

Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, talked about sugar trade with Mexico. He said the suspension agreement, which is expected to be approved in September will limit sugar imports from Mexico and prevent dumping by establishing a price floor.

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