[Image: Seedlings are grown in the greenhouse at St. Gabrield Research Station in order to develop improved sugarcane varieties.]
[Image: crossing cubicle]
[Image: Combine Harvesting]
Sugarcane has been an integral part of the south Louisiana economy and culture for more than 200 years. When Jesuit priests first brought sugarcane into south Louisiana in 1751, little did they know that the foundation was being laid for an industry that now contributes $2 billion to the Louisiana economy.
The first successful sugar crop used to produce raw sugar was that of Etienne de Bore. In 1795, de Bore succeeded in making sugar that was valued at $12,000. A thriving sugar industry soon replaced the cultivation of indigo in Louisiana. The first sugarcane varieties grown in Louisiana were "Creole," from which Etienne De Bore first granulated sugar, "Otaheite," and later "Louisiana Striped," "Louisiana Purple" and "D74." These varieties were called the "Noble" canes and were characterized by a large stalk diameter, low fiber content and a sucrose content satisfactory for sugar production under Louisiana conditions.
During the early years of cultivation, the average yield of sugarcane in Louisiana ranged between 16 and 20 tons per acre. The state sugar crop averaged around 300,000 tons of sugar per year and was a source of livelihood for 500,000 people.
New sugarcane varieties are often referred to as the lifeblood of the Louisiana sugar industry. In fact, the high and the low points of the Louisiana sugar industry closely parallel those of sugarcane variety development. Sugarcane diseases, primarily mosaic and seed cane rotting diseases, nearly brought about the failure of the Louisiana sugar industry in 1926, when sugar production dropped to a mere 47,000 tons. POJ varieties were brought in from Java to provide resistance to Louisiana's disease problems. By 1928, 85 percent of Louisiana's sugarcane acreage was planted with the new POJ varieties, which helped to restore the Louisiana sugar industry.
Later, sugarcane varieties were improved by the production of sugarcane seedlings through crossing. In 1890, seedcane from seedlings developed in Barbados were grown and evaluated at the LSU Sugar Station, which was then located at Audubon Park in New Orleans. In 1919, sugarcane crossing was begun at the USDA Sugarcane Field Station at Canal Point, Florida, where the sugarcane plant flowers naturally. The LSU Sugar Station first received true seed or "fuzz" from the Canal Point Station in1922. In 1923, the USDA established a research station at Houma, primarily for variety development and disease evaluations. Seedcane from seedlings and later seed from Canal Point were sent to the USDA facility in Houma. The evaluation of varieties from both foreign introductions and seedling sources through the cooperative efforts of the LSU Agricultural Center, the United States Department of Agriculture and the American Sugar Cane League was formally initiated in 1926 under the terms of a "three-way agreement." Variety development in Louisiana has been achieved by this cooperative agreement for more than 85 years.
Today, Louisiana sugarcane yields range from 30 to 50 tons per acre, with recoveries ranging from 180 to 240 pounds of sugar produced from each ton of cane. These sugar levels rival yields obtained in the more tropical sugarcane-growing regions. That's why sugar continues to be a major part of the south Louisiana economy.