Sugar Cane Best Practices

Agro-ecological situation

Conditions: Temperate, tropical and subtropical; long warm growing season, with high incidence of solar radiation and adequate moisture; a fairly dry, sunny and cool, but frost free season for ripening and harvesting; freedom from typhoons and hurricanes
Solar radiation: 18 – 36 MJ/m2 (Total annual: 6350 MJ/m2)
Rainfall: 1100 to 1500 mm/annum
Relative humidity: 55 to 80%
Optimum ambient temperature: 14 to 35°C
Soil suitability: Fertile, deep (up to 1.5 m), well drained and aerated soil (air-filled porosity: 10 – 12%), loamy to clayey in texture
Bulk density: 1.1 to 1.4 Mg/m3
Moderate topography (1 to 3º)
Optimum soil pH: 6.5 (range: 5 to 8.5)
Available water holding capacity: 150 mm/m depth of soil
Groundwater table: Below 1.5 to 2 m
Critical soil salinity level (ECe): Below 1.7 dS/m above which yield decreases
Soil to avoid: Waterlogged, alkaline and saline soils
Land preparation

  • Clod free seedbed with good tilth to express its cane yield potential, SDI installation & optimal soil water air relations.
  • Destroy the hard pan if any using either chisel plough or a subsoiler.
  • Primary tillage by mould board plough or disc plough and secondary tillage by disc harrows, tyned harrows or rotavator to achieve proper tilth.
  • Compost: 25 – 30 tons/ha

Planting material
Vegetative propagation
Healthy two-bud or three-bud setts

Planting pattern
Paired or dual row system

1.4 m + 0.4 m, 0.15 m
Optimum plant density – 130,000 millable canes/ha at harvest 

Seeding rates
Two bud setts – 40,000/ha or three bud setts – 30,000/ha
Seeding depth – 10 cm below the soil
Weed control
Managing weeds is critical for successful sugarcane production since they compete for light, water, nutrients, etc. and reduce cane yields by 12 to 72% depending on the weed intensity.
Critical crop weed competition period is initial 90 – 120 days.
Integrated weed control program involving crop rotation, manual weeding, good seedbed preparation, maintenance of optimum plant population, mechanical inter-cultivation and herbicide chemical applications. 

Recommended pre-mergence herbicides:
Lasso 48 EC 3.0 – 4.0 L/ha
Stomp 50 EC 1.5 L/ha
Atrazine 50 FW 3 – 4 L/ha
Diuron 80 WP 2.0 – 2.5 kg/ha
Ametryn 80 WP 2.5 – 3.0 kg/ha 

Recommended post-emergence herbicides:
Ametryn 80 WP 2.5 – 3.0 kg/ha
Sencor 70 WP 2.5 – 3.0 kg/ha
MSMA 72 SC 4.0 L/ha 

Irrigation system
Drip version – Surface or subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) combined with fertigation. Fertigation is the application of plant nutrients through an irrigation system, also known as NutrigationTM.
Drip product – DripNet PC, Super typhoon, DLN 17009.
Dripline spacing – 1.8 m with one lateral per two crop rows.
Emitter spacing – 0.30 m to 0.50 m depending on soil texture.
Emitter flow rate – 1.0 LPH, 1.6 LPH and 2.0 LPH depending on soil texture.
Dripline installation depth in SDI – 0.15 m to 0.3 m 

Crop water requirement & irrigation scheduling
Estimate crop water requirements as a product of daily reference crop evapotranspiration by Penman-Monteith method and crop coefficient for a given day according to the plant developmental stages.
Begin with 0.4 Kc of daily ETo in the initial period, raise it to 0.7 to 1.05 at tillering and canopy establishment phase, 1.2 at grand growth period and decrease it 1.15 to 0.95 to 0.7 at ripening and maturity period of sugarcane.
Peak crop water requirement: 6 – 7 mm/day in India & South Africa and 4 – 5 mm/day in Brazil.
Seasonal crop water requirement: 1100 to 1500mm under drip irrigation for range of environments.
Scheduling irrigations when tensiometers installed at 20cm soil depth register 15 – 25 centibars of soil moisture tension at tillering and grand growth period - 60 centibars at ripening period maximizes cane and sucrose yield. 

Apply mineral fertilizers based on the targeted cane yield, leaf nutrient analysis, results of fertilizer experiment, leaf deficiency symptoms, nutrient uptake, soil nutrient analysis, and nutrient recycling.

Nutrient uptake per ton of cane yield:
0.7 – 1.2 kg N
0.4 – 0.8 kg P2O5
1.8 – 2.5 kg K2O
Optimum leaf nutrient levels are:
1.9 – 2.% N
0.2 – 0.24% P
1.1 – 1.3% K
0.2 – 0.3% Mg
0.8 – 1.0% Ca
0.25 – 0.30% S
9 – 30 ppm B
8 – 10 ppm Cu
100 – 250 ppm Mn
200 – 500 ppm Fe
25 – 50 ppm Zn 

Recommended nutrient dose per hectare (under range of environments):
250 – 300kg N + 80 to 100kg P2O5+ 125 to 250kg K2O 

For fertigation use only water soluble fertilizers such as:
urea (46% N)
potassium nitrate (13% N & 46% K2O)
monoammonium phosphate (12% N & 61% P2O5)
ammonium nitrate (34% N) 

Earthing-up operation, also known as ‘hilling-up’, refers to placing of the soil around the plants and is carried out in two or three stages during sugarcane crop growing period.
Earthing-up checks late tillering, provides sufficient soil volume for root proliferation, controls weeds, promotes better soil aeration and provides a sound anchorage or support to the crop and thus prevents lodging.
The first earthing-up, also known as ‘partial earthing-up’, is done 45 days after planting. The second earthing-up and/ or third one is known as ‘full earthing-up’ and is done 120 & 180 days after planting, respectively. 

Detrashing refers to the removal of unwanted bottom unproductive dry and green leaves at regular intervals. The reason for detrashing is to make more photosynthates available for stalk growth, enable CO2 enrichment in the crop canopy, reduce pests incidence & bud sprouting; and facilitate easy harvesting of cane. 

Propping refers to the tying of leaves together using the bottom and middle level green leaves. Trash is twisted to form a sort of rope and cane stalks are tied together, without removing any trash from the cane. Propping is done to check lodging and damage to cane due to high wind velocities. Propping can be done for each row or for two rows that are brought together and tied. 

Pests and diseases
Important pests include early shoot borer, inter-node borer, root borer, root grub, thrips, woolly aphids, scale insects, termites, wire worm, white flies, black bug, etc.
Important diseases include red rot, whip smut, pineapple disease, wilt, ratoon stunting disease, grassy shoot disease, yellow leaf spot, eye spot, ring spot, etc.
Detect outbreaks and identify problem areas by routine patrols. Monitor economic threshold levels and take up appropriate plant protection measures. 

Harvesting management

  • Harvesting of sugarcane at peak maturity by adopting right technique is necessary to realize maximum weight of the millable canes (thus sugar) with least possible field losses under the given growing environment.
  • Avoiding cutting of either over-matured or under-matured cane.
  • Use standard criteria such as crop age, visual symptoms (drying of leaves and metallic sound of cane), quality parameters (juice Brix, pol or sucrose percentage and purity), etc. for determining cane ripening and maturity.
  • Cut the cane to ground level so that the bottom sugar rich internodes are harvested which add to yield and sugar.
  • Detop the cane and clean it properly before transporting it the sugar mill.
  • Avoid delay in the field after harvest and quickly dispose the harvested cane to sugar mill or bio-refinery.

Cane yield
Under drip irrigation and fertigation a good commercial cane yield should be 140 – 160 tons/ha depending on agroclimatic conditions, length of growing season and variety.
Water utilization efficiency varies between 15 – 20 kg/m3.