An LSU AgCenter field day for Iberia, St. Mary and Vermilion parish sugarcane farmers on July 26 placed an emphasis on methods of improving soil health.
Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice president, said the importance of soil health is being stressed to help farmers increase their production, and cover crops are part of that effort.
Farmer Taylor Blanchard of Blanchard Brothers Farms showed a demonstration field near the family farm in the Glencoe area where cover crops were used. Cover crops including sunn hemp, rapeseed and bullseye radishes were planted alongside planted cane at a cost of $116 per acre. “I think we can find other cover crops at a cheaper rate,” he said.
The cover crops seemed to insulate the cane against the hard freezes last winter, and erosion was noticeable in the area where cover crops weren’t grown, Blanchard said.
AgCenter pest management specialist Al Orgeron said the cover crops added 2 tons of biomass per acre and 36 pounds of nitrogen. The cane crop appeared to be taller and more robust in the area where the cover crop was terminated earlier.
Orgeron also talked about his herbicide research and said Lumax works well on ryegrass. If it is tank-mixed with Command and Prowl, it also controls itchgrass well. Lumax also shows good results on johnsongrass up to four weeks, but its effectiveness appears to decrease sharply six weeks after application.
Blanchard also talked about using the no-till practice for cane. Plant debris was raked and the fertilizer was applied using coulters to open a slot in the soil.
Blanchard’s father, Lane Blanchard, said the amount of nitrogen is increased on the no-till fields because he suspects nutrients are being tied up by the plant residue. Benefits of no-till are not immediately apparent. “You’re not going to see results immediately,” he said.
Lane Blanchard also talked about heating seed cane at the farm to reduce disease instead of buying seed cane propagated with tissue culture. The heat-treated cane showed no difference in yield, but it tends to result in a lager barrel size and larger leaves with a denser canopy.
The cane is heated to 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, for two hours, then cooled with water. If the seed is cooked too long, stand failure can occur, Lane Blanchard said.
The practice has been done on the farm for more than 30 years. “It seems to be working,” he said.
AgCenter agronomist Brenda Tubaña said soil fertility is affected by several factors, including soil pH, organic matter, and the ability of the soil to hold nutrients.
Organic matter can be increased with plant and animal wastes, cover crops and minimal tillage. Several years will be required for cover crops to show a benefit, Tubaña said.
AgCenter plant pathologist Jeff Hoy said continuously growing sugarcane on the same land as a monoculture depletes nutrients from the soil. Cane yields are higher on land with no recent history of growing cane.
Fertilizer, crop rotation, using cover crops and organic amendments can help restore some of that lost fertility, Hoy said.
AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois said he expects the Louisiana cane crop to exceed 450,000 acres this year, compared to 439,000 acres last year. “It looks like a good crop,” he said.
Last year’s excellent crop will help boost this year’s result. “Nothing sets up a crop better than a record year and dry grinding,” he said
American Sugar Cane League agronomist Atticus Finger said the new variety L 11-183 will have better results in lighter soils. It will have susceptibility to rust.
AgCenter sugarcane breeder Collins Kimbeng gave an overview of the breeding process that requires about 10 to 13 years of work to develop a new variety.
The process begins with 100,000 seedlings that are culled to 80,000 after transplanting. Clones are tested for their performance in different soil types, he said. Eventually, the best are selected for trials grown on farmers’ land. “We do all of this every year,” Kimbeng said.
The variety L 11-183 is the result of a cross made in 2006.
Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, said sugar prices are good because of suspension agreement with Mexico. Even if NAFTA is renegotiated with Mexico, the agreement will be retained for seven years. U.S. sugar is not affected by the proposed tariffs.
Also at the field day:
- Ron Levy, Louisiana Master Farmer Program coordinator, said a new class will be held in the area next year.
- AgCenter economist Naveen Adusumilli demonstrated a cover crop calculator.
- Mike Lindsey and Chris Coreil, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, demonstrated a rainfall simulator.
- Rich Johnson of the U.S. Department of Agriculture talked about interpreting soil test results.