With a world deficit in sugar production in 2008/09 which has seen prices on the rise, while the US has increased volume of sugar imports from South America, there is strong US demand for disease-resistant sugarcane and plants which thrive in adverse growing conditions. Despite sliding overall commodity prices, raw sugar futures prices have climbed 7.4 per cent in the past year, mainly as a result of the smaller overall crop.
The new cultivars were developed in a collaborative project between the University of Florida and the Florida Sugar Cane League on behalf of the ARS, the United States Department of Agriculture’s scientific research agency.
In tests, both new sugarcane variants out-produced a commercially grown cultivar used for comparison. The researchers said that both produced ‘high quantities’ of cane, while their sugar yields were 32 per cent and 15 per cent higher respectively than the control variety.
The ratoon problem
Sugar growers in Florida expect three harvests a year, and the researchers said that the new varieties produce a ‘very high’ yield for the first harvest, with ‘moderate’ yields for the second and third. These later harvests are called ratoon crops, in which the stubble from the previous harvest is left behind. Ratooning generally results in thinner canes with lower sugar content and an increased risk of disease and this is one of the issues the new varieties have been developed to resolve.
The ARS said that its Sugarcane Research Station at Canal Point develops new technologies in response to demand from growers. It said: “The station's goal is to produce disease-resistant varieties that contain good amounts of cane tonnage and sugar content. Research conducted at the station is responsible for substantial yield increases in Florida during the past 40 years.”
Current ARS research is focusing on producing higher yielding or cold-resistant varieties, which would allow for a longer harvest season.
Florida is the number one sugar-producing state in the US, with 20 per cent of its sugar cultivated on sand soils. Overall, Florida supplies 22 per cent of US sugar and two million tonnes of raw and refined sugar is processed there each year.