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Louisiana Gets New Sugarcane Variety, Plus Improved Harvesting and Processing

By Erin Kendrick-Peabody
September 3, 2003

It's on every kitchen counter. Many tea- and coffee-drinkers wouldn't do without it. But the simple, white crystals that we know as common table sugar are the product of some rather complex science.

This science, led by the Agricultural Research Service, along with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter) and the American Sugar Cane League (ASCL), is changing how Louisiana sugarcane growers and processors do business. There, in the state that ranks second in sugarcane production, the industry has many reasons to cheer.

In July, a new cane variety--developed through conventional plant breeding--was released that should ease the minds of Louisiana growers concerned because more than 85 percent the state's sugarcane acreage is now planted to just one variety. That means a new disease could wipe out the industry in a hurry, says Ed Richard, leader of ARS' Sugarcane Research Unit at Houma, La. Bringing that needed diversity is the HoCP 96-540 cultivar, developed through a cooperative agreement between ARS, the LSU AgCenter and the ASCL.

The current standard variety caused much excitement when it was introduced a decade ago. While producing 30 percent more sugar per acre than previous sugarcane plants, the variety, LCP 85-384, has a downside: Its stalks tend to lie down, or lodge, late in the season, especially after heavy rains.

To take full advantage of this higher yielding variety, a new harvester was needed to replace the conventional "soldier" harvester that primarily collects upright stalks. Growers quickly found that the "combine or chopper" harvester is a better match for lodged cane. ARS researchers are identifying ways to further improve the harvester's efficiency.

And, in researching how cane is processed, ARS chemist Gillian Eggleston has determined that "hot liming," which involves flash-heating cane juice to remove impurities, significantly reduces sucrose losses in factories.

Read more about these advances in sugarcane production in the September issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.