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Farmers warned of potential diseases in next sugarcane crop


March 3, 2020
By Ashley Joseph
Originally Posted on KPLC

We don’t hear much about this cash crop anymore, but it still plays a big part in the agricultural landscape of Louisiana.

The Louisiana sugarcane industry by itself is worth 3 billion dollars and generates an estimated 16,000 jobs, according to the USDA. However, a sparse winter could be setting up the next sugarcane crop for diseases.

Jimmy Meaux, a Calcasieu agent for the LSU Ag Center, said this is becoming a harsh reality for a number of Louisiana crops.

“We have some of the same issues even in other instances where diseases manifest themselves and get resistant to certain chemicals," said Meaux. “We’re always trying to find different ways of keeping that resistance at bay.”

Farming is a big industry across Louisiana and the nation. Meaux says with anything farming-related, mother nature plays a big factor and in this case, it’s no different.

“One of the main diseases that they discuss with sugarcane farmers is rust, if you get too much of it on there the plants don’t produce enough chlorophyll and don’t grow well," said Meaux. “It was really a mild December and January and we had a few cold snaps in February but not enough to slow down the rust from what farmers expect.”

Jeff Hoy, a resident coordinator of the AgCenter Sugar Research Station, said the freeze in November probably was not severe enough to control brown rust disease. “We’re probably tracking to another rust year,” he said.

He said it’s possible that using a starter fertilizer could control the disease.

Smut disease will continue to be a problem. The variety L01-299 is susceptible to the disease, but using healthy seed cane will prevent it from becoming a serious problem.

AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois said the past sugarcane crop resulted in decreased tonnage, but sugar production per ton was similar to last year.

Conditions for planting and harvest were generally good, which should result in a better harvest next year, he said.

Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, said efforts underway for tort reform in the state legislature could result in lower insurance premiums for cane trucks. He said the league is working with Louisiana Farm Bureau and the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry on that effort.

The league also is working with federal labor officials to make sure the sugarcane industry is able to get its H2A workers into the U.S. on time for the start of the 2020 harvest, Simon said.

Sugarcane also is showing a positive response to adding boron to the soil. A 20-pound increase in sugar can be obtained from a ton of sugarcane when 1 to 1.5 pounds of boron per acre are added to the soil.

It’s not just sugarcane that researchers like Meaux are concerned about. Over the years, he says mild winters have played a big role in the longevity of a number of Louisiana’s crops, keeping them busy with finding alternative remedies to an age-old process.

The LSU Ag Center said within the last year sugar production from sugarcane has dropped by 10 percent.