This year’s Louisiana sugarcane crop is responding well to recent rainfall, after a dry spring and early summer.

“You can start to see some changes in the crop,” Al Guidry, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Martin Parish, said at a sugarcane field day held July 22 in Parks, La.

Rainfall was so plentiful, a field tour had to be cancelled, and the entire event was held indoors.

The Mexican rice borer is moving east, said LSU AgCenter entomologist Gene Reagan. It was first detected in Louisiana more than two years ago west of Lake Charles.

“It’s now on the line between Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parishes,” Reagan said.

It was found recently in a rice field in Calcasieu Parish and in traps within a few hundred yards of the Jefferson Davis Parish line, he said. “So it’s probably in Jefferson Davis Parish now, and we don’t know it yet.”

The insect pest attacks stressed plants, and drought conditions could open the door for an infestation, Reagan said. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has 70 monitoring traps to keep track of the borer’s expansion.

Some sugarcane varieties are less susceptible to the insect, and insecticides are available for control of the pest, he said.

Former entomology student Julien Beuzelin said the Mexican rice borer builds up and overwinters on Johnson grass and vaseygrass. Controlling those weeds could help with management of the insect.

Al Orgeron, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. James Parish, gave details of a study on ripening agents.

The plant growth regulator Palisade increased total recoverable sugar as much as 18 percent in some experiments, and at least 10 percent in other trials, Orgeron said. Regrowth appeared to be greener after the chemical was used.

Palisade, a Syngenta product, is expected to be released for sale by 2012, he said.

The process of developing a new variety usually requires 12 years, said LSU AgCenter sugarcane breeder Collins Kimbeng. Experimental lines of rice are grown at different fields to test the potential varieties in a diverse setting of growing conditions.

Breeding efforts focus on developing varieties that have better characteristics than HoCP 96-540, the leading variety grown this year on 47 percent of the sugarcane acreage in Louisiana, said LSU AgCenter sugarcane researcher Michael Pontif.

The Louisiana breeding program is the envy of other sugar producing nations, said LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois. Sugar yields in other countries have stagnated, but U.S. yields continue to increase.