Growers who attended the 28th annual sugarcane field day at the LSU AgCenter’s Sugar Research Station in St. Gabriel were given better news than they’ve received over the past few years about their crop.

Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist, said the winter months didn’t look promising for sugarcane, but the past two months have really been good for the crop.

“Everybody knows it was a very cold winter, and the crop got off probably to one of the slowest starts that we’ve seen in a long, long time,” Gravois said. But if the weather remains agreeable, growers should be looking forward to a really good harvest.

After the cold weather, spring came early with a very dry April and May, which was nearly perfect for growing cane.

“Just when it was beginning to be too dry, the summer rains came,” he said. “Then summer came early, and our growth caught up. Sugarcane does best in summer weather that makes us uncomfortable and sweaty.”

In addition to the weather being favorable for a good crop, insect and disease pressure have been lower, and prices are a few cents higher this year. This combination is actually putting a few smiles on growers’ faces for a change.

The cold winter is responsible for a decrease in the amount of rust disease in this year’s crop.

“Rust needs to overwinter on the old growth, and the freezes killed all that back this year. It sure makes the crop look good,” said Gravois.

Dry April and May weather also was good for keeping down sugarcane borer populations meaning growers had good news on both fronts.

“We released L 03-371, a new commercial variety, in May, and it has performed well in the outfield trials. It has good sugar per acre, and it’s resistant to most of our diseases,” Gravois said, “It’s a little susceptible to the sugarcane borer, but we think it’s a good variety to put in our lineup.”

Other topics discussed at the field day included some of the new varieties being tested at the station.

Participants saw the newly renovated crossing house that was damaged by Hurricane Gustav. Gravois said this is where it all begins with the breeding program, so it’s important to have good facilities.

Gene Reagan, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said even though insect pressure overall is low on this crop some aphid problems are present on sugarcane this year. “There are hundreds of aphids that fly around on a lot of different plants, but we only have two species that actually reproduce and build up on sugarcane.”

Reagan said aphids, with their piercing, sucking mouthparts, cause direct loss to the cane crop by sucking juices from the plants. Secondary losses are caused when they also transmit toxins or diseases to the plant.

The field day program also highlighted the increased use of precision agriculture equipment in soil fertility and weed control in sugarcane.