The sugarcane industry has been playing a risky game in recent years because of its over-reliance on the 10-year-old cane variety LCP 85-384, which accounted for roughly 85 percent of Louisiana's total sugar cane acreage last year.

Now, sugarcane farmers have something new to use — a high-yielding, more disease-resistant cane variety developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture research scientists in cooperation with the LSU AgCenter and the American Sugar Cane League.

Seed for the new variety, HoCP 96-540, will be available through the American Sugar Cane League in the fall of 2003.

“When you have all your eggs in one basket, there are a lot of risks, including susceptibility to disease,” said LSU AgCenter sugarcane breeder Kenneth Gravois, who was involved with the project. “It's good to have a Plan B.”

HoCP 96-540 is a cross developed by matching LCP 85-384 with another sugarcane variety known as LCP 86-454. The new 540 variety gives farmers an even better-yielding option, Gravois said. Several years of tests have shown that HoCP 96-540 produced cane and sugar yields 5 percent to 10 percent higher than the popular LCP 85-384.

Outfield testing, the final stage of the Louisiana sugarcane variety development program, has been conducted through second stubble crops. The new variety's third and fourth stubble yield potential will be evaluated in future years, Gravois said.

“The new 540 variety is more resistant to rust — a typical sugarcane disease — and grows more erect with fewer lodging problems than LCP 85-384,” Gravois added. That means less mud will be harvested by combines under soggy harvesting conditions like those that plagued the sugarcane industry during a wet 2002.

Too much mud can affect milling quality adversely, Gravois said.

In addition, the leaves of the new 540 variety don't cling to the cane's stalks as tightly as with LCP 85-384. That means the green leaves are more likely to fall off or get blown off when heavy combines harvest the cane each fall. Getting rid of the leaves means farmers don't have to haul that dead weight to the mill, and the leaves won't clog up the milling process. Less waste material at the mill means it is easier to process the cane and extract a higher percentage of its sugar, he said.


Randy McClain (225-578-2263 or ramcclain@agcenter.lsu.edu) writes for the LSU AgCenter.