Louisiana sugarcane farmers heard about alternative crops and new cane varieties under development during field days July 24 and 25 in Iberia Parish. The farmers met at the Iberia Research Station, New Iberia, La., to see test plots of new cane varieties and sweet sorghum.

Sonny Viator, director of the Iberia Research Station, is participating in a study of sweet sorghum at LSU AgCenter research facilities across the state for its potential as an energy crop.

As fuel prices increase and corn prices remain high, the potential for sweet sorghum to produce ethanol is economically feasible, Viator said.

Earlier research had produced 250 gallons of ethanol per acre from sweet sorghum, but a more recent test at Houma resulted in 500 gallons per acre, Viator said.

He said sorghum has potential as a rotational crop with cane and rice. “I think it is going to be very much a complementary crop,” Viator said.

He said the varieties Theis, M81-E and Topper were grown this year at the Iberia Station, but new varieties are expected.

Several things have to be learned, including the best planting times and which herbicides can be used for the crop, he said.

Ben Legendre, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist, said a substitute for glyphosate as a ripener on sugarcane will have to be found if Roundup Ready sugarcane is released in a few years.

He said the chemical Palisade, a plant growth regulator, shows promise as an alternative ripener, and the manufacturer, Syngenta, wants more research from the LSU AgCenter in preparation for getting approval for Palisade next year.

Legendre advised farmers to make sure water used with the ripener glyphosate has a pH of less than 8 and doesn’t have an excessive amount of iron or calcium.

Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugarcane breeder, said several new varieties are in the pipeline but none has the potential of LCP85-384. He said L99-233 stubbles well like 384, but it has a tendency to lodge.

In late July, sugarcane farmers met at the farm of Lane Blanchard to hear about soybeans as a rotational crop. Kurt Guidry, LSU AgCenter economist, said soybean prices have fallen recently for several reasons, including a stronger dollar that has decreased exports and an 11-million acre increase in soybeans from 2007.

He said prices of $16-$17 a bushel from a few weeks ago have dipped to $13 and could get to $11. Wheat prices also have fallen, he said.

Viator urged farmers to plant soybeans instead of allowing sugarcane fields to go unplanted during fallow years. He said the cost of maintaining a fallow field is $290 an acre, compared to growing a soybean crop at a cost of $281 per acre.

Blanchard told his fellow farmers that he plants soybeans without burning sugarcane debris. He said his best fields of soybeans, drill-seeded on sugarcane rows, have only received 2 inches of rain since they were planted in April.

He said the bean crop helps his weed control program, and it reduces ground work. “Once you get it planted, you don’t have to work the ground,” he said.

He figured his soybean crop costs $165 an acre.

Blanchard said his objective at planting beans several years ago was to simply build up the soil. He said he had not even intended to harvest the beans his first year, but the crop was too good to leave in the field.