© 2005 Plant Management Network. This article is in the public domain.
Planting Method and Timing Effects on Sugarcane Yield
Ryan P. Viator, Plant Physiologist, Donnie D. Garrison, Agronomist, Edwis O. Dufrene, Jr., Agronomist, Thomas L. Tew, Geneticist, and Edward P. Richard, Jr., Research Leader, USDA-ARS Southern Regional Research Center, Sugarcane Research Unit, 5883 USDA Rd., Houma, LA 70360
Corresponding author: Ryan P. Viator. email@example.com
Viator, R. P. Garrison, D. D. Dufrene, E. O., Jr., Tew, T. L. and Richard, E. P., Jr. 2005. Planting method and timing effects on sugarcane yield. Online. Crop Management doi:10.1094/CM-2005-0621-02-RS.
Sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) in Louisiana is propagated from vegetative plantings in late summer and early fall as either whole stalks with 4 to 8 nodal buds or as stalk pieces (billets) with 2 to 4 buds. This research was conducted to determine if planting method and planting date affects yields of the varieties currently grown in Louisiana. Billet planting was compared to whole-stalk planting at three planting dates (August 15, September 15, and October 15) for 2 years with three different varieties (LCP 85-384, HoCP 85-845, and HoCP 95-555). Cane and sugar yields were compared in plant-cane and first-ratoon production years. When compared to whole-stalk planting, cane and sugar yields from billet planting were inconsistent, and no clear trends were observed. Averaged across varieties and planting method, the August planting date had higher cane and sugar yields than the September and October plantings. All varieties responded similarly to billet and whole-stalk planting. Our data suggest that farmers should attempt to plant the majority of their crop in August to maximize yields and should be aware that billet planting may give inconsistent yields compared with whole-stalk planting.
Sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) is propagated from vegetative stalk cuttings. Traditionally in Louisiana, stalks of mature seed-cane varying from 4 to 8 ft in length are cut with a whole-stalk harvester (Fig. 1) that leaves the entire mature stalk intact. Two to five stalks are then placed side-by-side in a horizontal position in a planting furrow and covered with 2 to 3 inches of soil. The majority of planting occurs from mid-summer to early fall (August to October). This cane becomes established from August to December but becomes dormant in January and February due to low temperatures killing all foliar growth. In recent years, producers have faced increased challenges with planting whole-stalks of cane because new varieties, such as LCP 85-384, often lodge in July and August. Mechanically cutting and planting lodged seed-cane with the traditional whole-stalk harvester can result in severe nodal bud damage, with a large portion of the stalks being broken during harvesting. Since 1993, the percentage of cane harvested with the chopper harvester, an alternative to the whole-stalk harvester, has increased. In 2003, it is estimated that in Louisiana 85% of the crop was harvested for sugar with chopper harvesters, and that international 20% of the crop was harvested with this method (B. L. Legendre, 2003, personal communications). With the increased adoption of the chopper harvester, the number of whole-stalk harvesters has begun to decline. Due to these changes in varieties and harvesting system, many producers are now using chopper harvesters to cut seed-cane. This type of harvester cuts stalks into 20- to 24-inch billets (Fig. 2) and is capable of cutting lodged cane. After being cut, the billets are placed in the opened furrow and covered.
There are several concerns about billet planting. By cutting the stalk of cane into smaller pieces, winter survival and spring growth is frequently decreased due to less available stored carbohydrates and possible stalk damage caused by the intense cutting process (1). Winter survival is a problem in Louisiana due to saturated soils and reoccurring freezing temperatures and is the reason for a high planting rate (5,11). Furthermore, stalk rot is a major concern in this sub-tropical area and becomes more severe when seed-cane is exposed to environmental stress (13,14). Billet planting increases the surface area for pathogens to enter the seed-cane (1,2).
There are also economic concerns associated with billet planting. Even though billet planting reduces planting time and labor inputs, this method requires more seed-cane than whole-stalk planting. Billet planting requires over three times as much seed-cane compared to whole-stalk plantings, which results in an additional $284/ha planting cost (11). The planting cost for billet planting could be comparable with whole-stalk cost if the amount of seed-cane used in this method could be reduced by 25% (11). Lowering the amount of seed-cane with billets, though, may increase the likelihood of poor crop establishment.
In addition to planting method, planting date can also play an important role in successful crop establishment. Planting dates have changed in Louisiana with the introduction of new management practices and new varieties (8). In recent years improved yields and a reduction in the number of raw sugar processors has forced the industry to begin harvesting in September instead of October, thus forcing growers to begin planting in August. Producers would prefer to plant in September because of the higher planting cost associated with an August planting. In August, cane is shorter and thus more stalks are required to plant an area compared to a later planting date. Prior research has indicated that the optimum planting date differs among varieties (8). Most varieties, though, yielded best with a September planting date. September is generally considered the peak planting month in Louisiana, but early lodging and early harvest operations are forcing growers to plant sooner (3). This research was initiated to determine if planting method and planting date affects yields of the major varieties grown in Louisiana.
Planting Method Treatments
Billet and whole-stalk planting methods were compared at three planting dates (August 15, September 15, and October 15) with three different varieties (LCP 85-384, HoCP 85-845, and HoCP 95-555) on a Commerce silt loam (fine-silty, mixed, superactive, nonacid, thermic Fluvaquentic Endoaquepts) at the USDA-ARS-SRRC Sugarcane Research Unit’s Ardyone Farm located near Schriever, LA. Heat-treated seed-cane was planted to insure high quality seed, and the planting rate was three stalks side-by-side. For the billet method, the seed-cane was cut into 24-inch billets with a machette after being placed in the opened planting furrow. The cuts were made at random points on the stalk so there was some nodal damage similar to a chopper harvester that has the recommended seed-cane cutting modifications (4). This was done to ensure that planting rate was consistently 2 tons/acre across planting methods. Cane was then covered with 3 inches of packed soil. To insure optimum levels of weed control metribuzin was applied at 3.0 lb a.i./acre immediately after planting and a mixture of pendimentalin (2.0 lb a.i./acre) plus atrazine (4.0 lb a.i./acre) was applied in March and again in May. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium were applied in mid-April at 120, 30, 60 lb/acre as an injected band on both sides of the planted line of cane. Sugarcane borers were controlled using tebufenozide at 0.1 lb a.i./acre when infestations reach thresholds defined by Louisiana State University Extension recommendations.
Treatments were arranged in a split-split plot design with planting date as whole plots, variety as split-plot, and planting method as split-split plot. Planting method plots consisted of three 6-ft-wide rows that were 16-ft long. All treatments were replicated four times, and this experiment was conducted in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. The two plant-cane crops were harvested with a chopper harvester in the first week of December of 2000 and 2001; the subsequent first ratoon crops were harvested in the second week of November in 2001 and 2002. Cane yield (tons/acre) was determined using a modified billet wagon equipped with electronic load cells. Theoretically recoverable sugar (TRS) level was assessed from a randomly collected billet sample from each plot using the core press method (7). Data were analyzed with PROC GLM with SAS (SAS Institute, Inc., Cary, NC) using specified error terms as described by McIntosh (9). Means of significant effects were separated using Fisher’s protected LSD at P = 0.10.
Stalk and Sugar Yield Response
Cane and sugar yields from billet and whole-stalk plantings for the different planting dates are shown in Table 1. For September 2000, August 2001, and September 2001, the two methods proved similar in cane and sugar yield, but whole-stalk plantings out-yielded billet-planted cane by 2.9 and 4.5 tons/acre in August 2000 and October 2000, respectively (Table 1). Whole-stalk plantings also had 0.4 and 0.7 tons/acre at these same dates. In contrast, the billet planting method increased cane and sugar yield by 2.8 and 0.4 tons/acre in October 2001. Total recoverable sugar (TRS) was similar for most of the plantings except for the 8 lbs/ton increase for the whole-stalk method in October 2000 (Table 1).
Table 1. Planting method and planting date effects on cane yield, theoretical recoverable sugar, and sugar yield of plant-cane crop, harvested in 2001 and 2002.
x Means within a column and year followed by the same upper case letter or within a row and a particular measurement (cane yield, trs, etc.) followed by the same lower case letter are not statistically different using Fisher's protected LSD at alpha= 0.10.
Considering plant-cane yields, optimal planting date appears to be in August for both planting methods compared to plantings in September and October. Whole-stalk plantings in August produced sugar yields that were 1.3 and 0.7 tons/acre sugar more than the average of the two other dates in 2000 and 2001, respectively (Table 1). Billets planted in August yielded 1.2 and 0.5 tons/acre sugar more than the average of the two other dates in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Moreover, billets planted in October produced lower TRS levels and cane and sugar yields than the September planting in 2000.
Another interesting result of this study was the decrease in yields observed with later planting dates using both planting methods. It was originally hypothesized that planting cane later as billets would greatly decrease yield because of the combined sources of stress associated with billet planting (such as increased winter rot) and non-optimal planting date, but this was not consistent in this study. The rate of sugar yield decline for billet plantings was greater only in 2000 (Fig 3). In 2001, the rate of decline was actually greater with whole-stalk plantings (Fig 4). One possible reason for these inconsistencies is due to the fact that the winter of 2000-2001 was much cooler than the winter of 2001-2002. The average temperature for the months of November, December, and January was 8°F less in 2000-2001 than in 2001-2002. Cold temperatures are a major stress on this tropical crop.
In terms of how the variables in this study affected each other, there was a significant planting date by planting method interaction indicating that the effects of planting method were not consistent at different planting times (Table 1). There was no planting method by variety interaction, indicating that all varieties responded similarly to planting method.
The impact of planting method and date diminished in the first-ratoon crop, which was harvested the following year (Table 2), probably because all stubble crops started at the same physiological stage in terms of root development. Both planting methods proved similar in cane and sugar yield for the planting dates in both years. The negative effect of late planting sometimes persisted into the first-ratoon crop with both whole-stalk plantings and billet-plantings. The August billet planting in 2003 had 3.3 tons/acre greater cane tonnage and 0.4 tons/acre more sugar than the September planting; this early planting also had 0.2 tons/acre more sugar than the October planting. Similarly, the August whole-stalk planting in 2003 had 4.6 tons/acre greater cane tonnage and 0.6 tons/acre more sugar than the September planting.
Table 2. Planting method and planting date effects on cane yield, theoretical recoverable sugar, and sugar yield of first-ratoon crop, harvested in 2002 and 2003.
a Means within a column and year followed by the same upper case letter or within a row and a particular measurement (cane yield, TRS, etc.) followed by the same lower case letter are not statistically different using Fisher's protected LSD at alpha = 0.10.
This research demonstrates the inconsistency of billet-planted cane, with yields being equivalent to the traditional whole-stalk method for only four out of six planting dates. In our study, whole-stalk plantings for two of the planting dates out-yielded billet-planted cane by an average of 3.7 tons/acre. Research in tropical areas report that whole-stalk plantings had consistently higher yields than billet planting, and that planting costs with whole-stalks were 67% less (6). Hoy et al. (5) reported that cane yields in Louisiana were often lower with billets compared to whole-stalks. Farmers need to determine if losses associated with cutting lodged cane with a whole-stalk harvester are substantial enough to accept the potential 9.6% loss associated with billet planting in the plant-cane crop. All varieties used in our study (LCP 85-384, HoCP 85-845, and HoCP 95-555) responded similarly to billet planting. This is in contrast to previous reports that varieties vary in tolerance to billet planting (5). Our research indicates that farmers can billet-plant all three of the most popular Louisiana varieties.
Garrison et al. (3) reported an advantage to a mid-August planting over a mid-October planting, but this research did not indicate differences with mid-August and September plantings. Furthermore, research has indicated that different varieties have different optimal planting dates; thus a definite planting schedule for individual varieties is necessary for optimal yield (3,8). The results from our study indicate that August, averaged across varieties and planting method, is the best planting date and that this increase in yield can continue into the first-ratoon crop. Unlike other crops such as cotton, total degree days accumulated since planting does not correlate well with overall yield because of the winter kill after planting. In this study, all planting dates begin spring growth at the same time because of winter kill. The planting date effect is probably due to increased root development in the early planted stalks, which enables the newly germinated bud to begin growth with a much more developed root system than cane planted later. Root growth has been shown to have a dramatic effect on yield in sugarcane (12).
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