New crops on horizon for north Louisiana, Mississippi producers
Farmers growing crops in Louisiana and Mississippi may soon have two new crops to add to their portfolios.
Researchers with the LSU AgCenter, Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service and the United States Department of Agriculture are working together to bring sugarcane and sweet sorghum north – way north – of Interstate 10.
“We’re looking at these as crops producers can grow in addition to crops they’re already growing,” said Donal Day, project manager for the LSU AgCenter’s Sustainable Bioproducts Initiative. “We’re looking at how producers in the northern areas of Louisiana and Mississippi can grow these crops to help supplement their incomes.”
The cane being tested for growing in northern locations is called “energycane” and is grown for the high fiber rather than sugar it produces. Researchers say the crop can be used to provide feedstock for biorefineries to use in producing biofuels.
Brian Baldwin, a professor of plant and soil science at Mississippi State University, said energycane is a hybrid of sugarcane and wild cane bred for high fiber – or high biomass.
The researchers are testing five types of energycane at locations in Tifton, Ga., Athens, Ga., Starkville, Miss., Raymond, Miss., St. Gabriel, La., College Station, Texas, Beaumont, Texas, and Waimanalo, Hawaii, as part of the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Herbaceous Feedstocks partnership.
“Yes, we’re testing energycane in Hawaii,” Baldwin said. “The coastal areas are rapidly being converted to housing. The only place for agriculture to grow is farther up the mountains, and those areas can get cold.”
Researchers at USDA-ARS Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma, La., are crossbreeding sugarcane with Miscanthus, S. spontaneum and S. officinarum to produce a number of different energycane varieties that can be grown in colder temperatures.
“Creating an energycane variety that is cold-tolerant will extend the range of cultivation and allow for producers outside the traditional cane growing areas to produce energycane crops,” said Collins Kimbeng, a plant breeder with the LSU AgCenter. “Creating cold-tolerant varieties also will allow for energycane to be grown later in the winter months, prolonging the growing season and enabling producers to produce crops for longer periods of time.”
In addition to creating a new breed of cane, researchers also are studying management practices involved with growing energycane in colder temperatures. LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois said management practices being studied include fertility management and planting depths and, further north, row spacing.
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