BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana sugarcane farmers have a chance to diversify their sugarcane crops with the release of two new sugarcane varieties, L 97-128 and Ho 95-988, officially released May 5 for commercial planting in the fall of 2004, according to Ben Legendre, sugarcane specialist with the LSU AgCenter.

The varieties were developed under a three-way agreement among the LSU AgCenter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma, La., and the American Sugar Cane League.

“These new varieties illustrate the cooperation we have among these agencies,” said David Boethel, vice chancellor and director of research at the LSU AgCenter. “The work we do together benefits both the Louisiana sugar industry and the economy of the state.”

The variety L 97-128 was bred and selected at the LSU AgCenter’s Sugarcane Research Station at St. Gabriel, La., and Ho 95-988 was bred and selected at the USDA facility at Houma.

“Both varieties have yields of sugar per acre comparable to LCP 85-384 through the second-stubble crop in outfield tests,” Legendre said.

“We have a great variety in LCP 85-384,” Boethel said. “These two varieties have to be outstanding to compete with that — and they do.”

LCP 85-384 has become the mainstay of the Louisiana sugarcane industry. Kenneth Gravois, sugarcane breeder and resident coordinator of the LSU AgCenter’s St. Gabriel Research Station, estimates that variety currently is planted on nearly 90 percent of the state’s sugarcane acreage.

Gravois said L 97-128 is the first major sugarcane variety released since LCP 85-384 in 1993. The LSU AgCenter has applied for variety protection through a plant patent, he said.

“We can’t keep all our eggs in one basket,” Gravois said. “We hope one or two new varieties will perform as well as 384 and provide us with diversity in our fields.”

Plant breeders are concerned that dependence on a single variety for any crop could spell disaster if that particular variety suffers from a major disease or insect infestation. Their challenge, however, is to develop new varieties that are as good or better than the ones farmers are planting.

“We have to breed better than the best,” Gravois said. “With L 97-128, we think we have something here.”

Gravois said a strong point for L 97-128 is its very early maturity.

Research indicates L 97-128 produces approximately 9 percent more recoverable sugar than LCP 85-384 and produces 14 percent more recoverable sugar per ton of cane when harvested in mid-September. The new variety is the earliest-maturing and has the highest sugar recovery of any commercial variety released to Louisiana’s sugarcane growers and processors, Gravois said.

Farmers will benefit from a reliable, productive variety that yields well early in the season, Gravois said.

In addition to L 97-128, the new variety from Houma offers significant benefits, according to experts.

“Ho 95-988 is another variety derived from the basic breeding program at Houma, although its genetic makeup is completely different from LCP 85-384,” Legendre said.

The Houma variety is derived from crossing three wild varieties and an Hawaiian variety, Gravois said. It’s not closely related to any variety grown in Louisiana.

Both new varieties are resistant to moderately resistant to most diseases currently found in Louisiana, with the exception of smut, a fungal disease in sugarcane. Legendre said both varieties are moderately susceptible to this disease, and growers will see some smut in the field.

He said both varieties also are susceptible to the sugarcane borer, with Ho 95-988 being classified at this time as very susceptible.

“Neither variety should be planted where insecticides cannot be applied,” Legendre said.

Both varieties appear to be more erect than LCP 85-384, which should help remove harvest trash, especially tops, when using the combine harvester, Legendre said.

Gravois said the LSU AgCenter variety L 97-128 was developed by a team of researchers, including himself, Keith Bischoff, Gene Reagan, Jeff Hoy and Collins Kimbeng. The variety was released after 12 years of research and data collection.

Seed cane of L 97-128 will be available through the American Sugar Cane League, and seed cane of Ho 95-988 will be available this year only from a commercial clean seed company.

Contacts: Kenneth Gravois at kgravois@agcenter.lsu.edu and Ben Legendre at blegendre@agcenter.lsu.edu

Rick Bogren writes for the LSU AgCenter. e-mail: rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu