Sugarcane testing moves north as more farmers grow the crop

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LAFAYETTE, LA — “We’re growing cane at the northernmost latitude here in Louisiana”, Wilson Judice, an agronomist for the American Sugarcane League, told me after walking out of a truck full of sugarcane.

Sugarcane is a tropical crop. Most of it grows near the equator, and only Florida, Louisiana, and some of Texas grow the crop in the United States according to Judice, “When you get the northern part of the industry you’re kind of pushing it”.

Pushing it until recently. Studies by the American Sugarcane League and LSU Agriculture Center are introducing new varieties of sugarcane more resistant to pests, diseases, and what’s preventing much of Louisiana from planting, the cold.

Judice explained, “In the last 10-15 we’ve been able to introduce more cold tolerance in our variety, so that’s one reason why they’ve been able to grow further north”.

The other reason is the price.

“It isn’t always more profitable, but it does get to be more stable” –John Hebert, Louisiana Sugar Cane Coop Agricultural Division Manager

The Federal Sugar Program helps keeps the market stable. Sam Irwin with the American Sugarcane League says American farmers produces most of the sugar we use, but the U.S. does imports some sugar from other countries. With China importing less American soybeans and other states growing an abundance of corn, more farmers are switching to sugarcane”.

John Hebert works at for a sugar cane mill. He put it this way, “It’s pretty safe to say that every acre suitable that is suitable for growing sugar cane south of I-10 is growing sugarcane, so that’s driving the market further north”.

“As the industry moves further north and west our research and our testing and our evaluation needs to follow”, said Ken Gravois, PhD. He is LSU’s sugar cane specialist. His researchers create a new variety of sugar cane every one to two years, but this month they started planting sugarcane near Alexandria to prepare the whole state for the next big freeze.

“We had to find a cold environment or wait until we get the right weather”, Gravois explained. He says because of research, the number of sugarcane surviving through harvest season has doubled since the 1970s, and with sugar in such high demand, no Louisiana farmer will be taking money from his neighbors’ pockets”.

“We have more than enough room to market any increases in production”. — Kenneth Gravois, PhD, LSU Sugarcane Specialist

Judice says don’t be surprised to see more sugar cane across Louisiana soon, “Once they see that’s it’s a viable option for them, which I think a lot of them are seeing, you’ll see more sugar cane up there”.

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