Louisiana Sugarcane: Evaluating Effects of Freeze

The recent freeze has sugarcane growers anxious, but as of right now, the advice from the LSU AgCenter is don’t panic.

Kenneth Gravois, AgCenter sugarcane specialist, said it’s too early to tell what effect the sub-freezing temperatures felt on Nov. 13 will have on the crop.

“Every freeze event is different, and it will take at least a week to determine the effect of this freeze,” Gravois said. “The long-term effect of the freeze will depend upon the weather between now and the end of the grinding season.”

There are some best management practices that should be followed after a freeze, and until the amount of damage is known, he suggests a field-by-field survey.

Gravois said the industry has experienced freezes in past years, and grinding was completed successfully by following the best management practices.

He says varieties make a difference. The varieties L 99-226, L 03-371, Ho 07-613 and L 11-183 all have poor cold tolerance and should be harvested first. HoCP 04-838 has the best tolerance to cold weather and should be harvested last.

Also, fields at a higher elevation tend to be a bit warmer, and just a few degrees can make a difference during a freezing event. Areas at a higher elevation tend to have less damage.

“There will also be differences in the damage to standing cane versus down cane,” Gravois said. “Even within the same variety, standing cane has less freeze damage than cane that is lodged. Cold air pools close to the ground.”

Growers are advised to burn only what they will harvest for that day’s quota.

“Burning can help improve cane quality, and burning can contribute to poor-quality cane,” he said. “But you do not want to burn when night temperatures are greater than 50 degrees.”

Gravois said growers should keep in mind the following guidelines for burning:

  • Burning will improve combine capacity and decrease trash at the mill.
  • Burned cane not processed within 12 to 20 hours will contribute to dextran problems.
  • Firebreaks will prevent the accidental spread of fire in large blocks of cane.
  • When burning, follow smoke and ash management guidelines.

“Growers should stop overnight loading following a freeze,” Gravois said. “Also, don’t preload on off days.”

Where possible, growers should top their cane.

“For growers with combines, run the fans aggressively and keep good blades in the choppers,” he said. “It is better to leave a small amount of cane in the field than to leave the whole field behind later.”

Gravois emphasized that growers should work closely with mills to ensure that a high-quality, clean cane supply is delivered.


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