More than 60 farmers, crop consultants and researchers gathered at the United States Department of Agriculture Sugarcane Research Unit (SRU) in Houma to learn about the latest scientific and technical advancements in Louisiana’s sugarcane industry at the annual Terrebonne Area Sugarcane Field Day sponsored by the USDA and Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
The research farm, built jointly by investment from the American Sugarcane League and the USDA, is a 300-acre experimental farm near the Chacahoula community where new cane varieties and farming technologies are developed and tested.
SRU research Leader Mike Grisham said the annual field day is a useful tool for crop consultants and farmers to stay abreast of continuing research. Researchers from the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and LSU AgCenter gave field presentations.
"The USDA farm helps coordinate research projects from USDA, LSU AgCenter and the American Sugar Cane League and is a laboratory for the sugarcane industry,” Grisham said.
Research geneticist James Todd, agronomist Edwis Dufrene and agricultural science research technician Michael Duet previewed HoCP 09-804, the new sugarcane variety that the USDA, LSU AgCenter, and the League developed.
Dufrene, told the group it takes 12 years to develop a new variety and no single variety is perfect for every growing condition.
"We think the new HoCP 09-804 was a good choice because it produces a high sugar content early in the harvest season,” Dufrene said. "A lot of farmers will continue to choose L 01-299 as their primary variety but 804 could offer a solid second best choice after 299.”
Weed control is always an issue in farming. Eric Petre, USDA-ARS and Al Orgeron, LSU AgCenter, told the farmers they were evaluating new chemical compounds developed by the herbicide industry for use in sugarcane.
Orgeron said Armezon shows promise for combating bermudagrass and many small annual grasses post-emergence. Orgeron said he thought Armezon would be available for sugarcane use in 2017.
Orgeron said a weed previously thought to be Eastern black nightshade has been establishing itself in fields and is very tough to eradicate. Orgeron sent samples of the plant to taxonomic experts and learned that the plant was not Eastern black nightshade, but a nightshade species from China that doesn’t yet have an English name. However, its Latin name is Solanum merrillianum Liou.
Orgeron believes the weed, however it is ultimately identified, will be declared an invasive species and is hopeful that additional herbicides will be labeled for emergency use.
As dependable labor costs rise, researchers are looking at ways to help growers reduce planting costs and increase cane yields with billet planting and wide row spacing, respectively. Since sugarcane is not planted by seed, farmers must plant "whole stalks” or "billets” in the soil to raise a crop. Most farmers plant whole stalks of seed cane by hand or mechanically using planters to ensure good stands. In Louisiana, billet-planted cane yields often fall short of whole stalk-planted cane yields, especially in stubble crops.
Paul White, USDA agronomist said progress is being made with billet-planting, including pre-plant chemical treatment of billets and the use of a variety of mechanical planting machines to drop billets into a furrow. Both techniques have their pros and cons.
Louisiana sugarcane is planted in a single furrow that is six feet from row-top to row-top, but White said eight-foot rows where two furrows of stalks can be planted on a single row mound, can produce as much as five to seven additional tons of cane per acre.
Farmers have always been the first to embrace proven high technology and have installed global positioning satellite tools on their tractors and land-leveling machines. What was a novel idea 15 years ago in farming is now the norm, said Rich Johnson, a USDA researcher. Johnson said other areas where farmers may decide to explore technological innovations is soil electrical conductivity soil mapping, devices that control the rate of fertilizer and other applications.
Johnson said rate controllers are readily available at most feed and seed dealers and would provide a quick return on investment.
Remote sensing from unmanned aerial view devices like drones is not widely adopted but Johnson showed an aerial view of a field that had been mapped to show irregular application of nitrogen in a field so farmers could adjust. Practical application research for drones is being studied, Johnson said.
Yield monitors on sugarcane harvesters are not yet available but research is being conducted in that area.
USDA research technician Randy Richard’s report on insect pressure on sugarcane indicated that the West Indian cane fly was showing up in unusual numbers in sugarcane fields. A special permit for pesticide application was in the works, Richard said.
Richard also said the sugarcane borer, a serious pest in the cane industry, was present in the crop, and, given favorable conditions, could become a problem if not monitored and treated appropriately. Richard had previously conducted a survey of the pest throughout the cane belt.
The Terrebonne sugarcane field day was the first of several summer field days for the sugarcane industry. Other field days will be held July 12 in Assumption Parish, July 19 for the Avoyelles/Rapides area, July 20 for Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge and the river parishes, July 21 for Lafourche and July 22 for St. Martin, Lafayette and St. Landry areas. A St. Mary, Iberia and Vermilion meeting date has not yet been determined.