New Sugarcanes Sour Pest's "Sweet tooth"By
Sugarcane growers stand to benefit from 12 new sugarcane germplasm strains
that withstand a tiny, tunneling terror called the sugarcane borer, Diatrae
Borer larvae tunnel deep into the cane plant's stalk to feed and continue
their transformation into adult moths. Inside the stalk, they're relatively safe
from most predators, save the relentless fire ant. Cane growers race against
time to spray their crop with insecticide before the borer reaches the plant's
interior. But spraying becomes costly and poses an environmental risk.
The resistant sugarcanes should offer relief on both fronts. Several, for
example, impede borer penetration with tough, outer rinds. Others produce
natural chemicals that retard the pest's growth. The resistant strains, called
clones, stem from more than 10 years of cross-breeding, development and field
evaluation by scientists at Louisiana State
University and the Agricultural Research
Service. ARS is the chief scientific agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to Bill White,
an ARS entomologist, the borer is the most serious insect pest of sugarcane in
Florida and Louisiana, where 35 percent of the nation's $1.5 billion crop is
A grower's battle against the borer begins the moment it hatches from eggs
laid on the plant's leaves. That's when insecticides and natural enemies like
parasitic wasps are most effective in keeping its numbers to a minimum. A
resistant cane crop would further ease the need for such chemical controls by
buying beneficial insects more time, and blocking the borer's avenue of escape
Of the 12 sugarcane clones developed, US93-15 proved the most resistant.
When deliberately exposed to borer larvae in field studies, the clone's stalk
suffered 85 percent less joint damage than other commercial check varieties.
Scientific contact: Bill White, USDA-ARS
Unit, Houma, La., (504) 8725042, fax (504) 868-8369,