|by Brianna Walker
for Agri-Times NW
Sugarcane is grown in 4 states: Louisiana, Florida, Hawaii and Texas. Florida is the top grower of sugarcane, while Louisiana is the oldest and perhaps most historic.
Sugarcane arrived in Louisiana with the Jesuit priests in 1751 who planted it near where their church now stands on Baronne Street in New Orleans. Sugar cane plantations later grew up around New Orleans. Little did they know that the foundation was being laid for an industry that produces over 400,000 acres and contributes over $2 billion to the Louisiana economy.
In 1795, Jean Étienne de Boré, a French planter, successfully granulated sugar on a commercial scale, essentially making sugarcane profitable as a commodity crop. Like all crops, it had a few bad years: lack of production during the Civil War, a disease epidemic in the 20s, and freezing temperatures in the 90s. But through it all, the growers have survived, and continued to produce one of the world's main food staples.
During the early years of cultivation, the average yield of sugarcane in Louisiana ranged between 16 and 20 tons per acre. Later, as sugarcane varieties were improved through crossing seedlings, better varieties were able to produce better yields.
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.
Because sugarcane is a tropical crop, the ability to rival tropical yields has been largely the result of sugarcane breeding efforts. These efforts began in Louisiana in the early 1920s. Breeding has not only increased the yield and the sugar recovery but also the number of years a crop is viable.
Sugarcane is planted vegetatively, using whole stalks of cane rather than true seed. Each stalk consists of several joints which each have a bud. Cane stalks are planted in rows during the fall of each year and the buds produce shoots of cane the following spring. After maturing into stalks during the late summer, the cane crop is first harvested that fall and is called the plant cane crop. Sugarcane is a grass and more than one cutting can be harvested from each planting. In Louisiana, two to four additional annual cuttings (called ratoon crops) are made before the land has to be fallowed and replanted.
All Louisiana sugarcane is mechanically harvested using either soldier or combine type harvesters. Soldier harvesters cut off the cane tops, cut the stalks from their attachment to the row, and lay them on heaps behind the machine. After the cane heaps are burned to remove excess trash, cane loaders place the cane in large wagons for transport to the raw sugar factories. Combine harvesters cut the stalks into short pieces or billets, while extractor fans remove a portion of the leaf trash. Billets are then transported to the factories.
At the raw sugar factories, cane is washed and crushed, with the juice being boiled down to a thick syrup. The cane byproduct is bagasse which is often used as a fuel to power the factories. The thick syrup is separated into sugar crystals (“raw sugar”) and black strap molasses. The raw sugar is sold to refiners who melt the raw sugar crystals, remove the remaining impurities and color, and produce white or “refined” sugar.
Sugar Fun Facts:
Sugar is 100% natural. It's a pure carbohydrate. Vitamins and minerals are sometimes present, but only in trace amounts. Sugar contains15 calories per teaspoon. Sugar, or sucrose, is produced most commonly from sugarcane or sugar beets when the energy of sunlight along with chlorophyll in the leaves transforms water and nutrients into sugar. Although the processing is slightly different, there is no difference between the sugar from sugarcane or sugar beets. On an equal weight basis, there is very little nutritional difference between honey and sugar. Because it weighs more, a tablespoon of honey contains slightly more carbohydrates and calories than a tablespoon of sugar.
And lastly, only when you have eaten a lemon do you appreciate what sugar is.