ST. GABRIEL, La. — LSU AgCenter scientists enthusiastically discussed a new sugarcane variety that will be available to Louisiana farmers later this year during the 21st Annual Sugarcane Field Day held this summer.

This new variety, HOCP 96-540, was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the LSU AgCenter and the American Sugar Cane League, and officials say it is well-suited to Louisiana growers and could help to diversify the state's industry.

More than 150 farmers and others attended the field day at the LSU AgCenter's St. Gabriel/Sugar Research Station at St. Gabriel.

What they heard was that the new sugarcane variety is causing a stir mainly because it has good disease resistance, produces good yields and stands very erect — factors that are important to Louisiana farmers, according to LSU AgCenter professor Kenneth Gravois, who also serves as research coordinator at the St. Gabriel facilities.

"Here in south Louisiana, with the potential for hurricanes and severe thunderstorms that we have, it's important to have all of these qualities, but an erect plant is very important to the farmers," Gravois said.

The new variety also offers additional benefits to the state's sugarcane growers, because it could bring back some diversity to the varieties planted here.

Gravois said that one of the main problems Louisiana cane farmers have faced over the past few years has been "an all your eggs in one basket situation."

To explain, the LCP 85-384 variety that was released in 1993 was planted on approximately 88 percent of the state's sugarcane acreage this year. Gravois said that raises some cause for concern, since a serious problem — such as a disease that severely affected the variety — could devastate the state's crop.

As for the newer variety, officials said one negative is its susceptibility to the sugarcane borer, an insect pest of the industry. But Gravois said there are pesticides on the market to take care of this problem.

"That means the positive benefits of this new variety far outnumber this one negative," he said.

Among the other topics discussed at the field day were the outlook for this year's crop, ripeners, reduced tillage programs, weed control and sugarcane mulch management and water quality.

LSU AgCenter professor and sugarcane specialist Ben Legendre said he is optimistic about this year's sugarcane crop.

"Many of the farmers and county agents are saying that this is not a super crop, but it looks to be as good as last year's, and last year's crop was considered to be a good crop," Legendre said, stressing good harvesting weather will play a major role in how good a crop is produced.

"The rainfall that we've received over the past month has caused an increase in the infestation of the sugarcane borer," Legendre said, adding the economic threshold for the pest is 5 percent, but he's seeing that number being pushed to the 20 percent level in some fields.

The LSU AgCenter experts also said some fields still are showing problems from the hurricane and rain damage last year.

"Farmers have to manage with rutted fields, and some farmers still have not fertilized this year's crop," Legendre said.

Charlie Melancon, president of American Sugar Cane League, praised the work being done for cane farmers by the LSU AgCenter. "Chancellor Richardson, we know that your county agents are doing more work with fewer people, but thanks to the Extension agents, they are making all of our jobs easier," he said.

Johnny Morgan (225-578-8484 or jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu) writes for the LSU AgCenter.