Everglades Station Mimeo Report EES65-8 October, 1964
MECHANICAL HARVESTING OF FORAGE CANE -
ST. U. Casselman1/
If sugarcane is to be used as a pasture supplement for winter e ding
cattle, it will be necessary to mechanically harvest, chop and deli the aroD
to the herd. Rather than build a special harvester for this purpose it uld
be desirable to use a currently available machine which would renuire~onlv\ mjno
modifications to handle the crop. In addition, the cane variety chosen f<
forage should have certain characteristics such as 1) a reasonably high sugar
content, 2) an upright growth habit, 3) moderate size stools, 4) small barrel and
5) moderate yields.
In December 1960 three su-arcane varieties, C.P. 48-126, C.P. 57-475 and
US 54-24-5, were selected by the Everelades Station Surarcane ASronomist2/ as
possible forage varieties meeting the above requirements and planted on the
Station. These were harvested during the 1961-62 season. Some characteristics
of the three varieties were observed as follows:
Characteristic 57-475, 54-24-5 48-126
Stool width (in.) 13 to 16 13 to 16.
Stalks per stool 10 to 16 5 to 12
Barrel diameter (in.) 3/4 to 1 Preater than 1
Length of stalk (in.) 89 to 94 greater than 94
Shed lower leaves Yes No
Lodging No Somewhat
Variety 48-126 was discarded as a possible fora-e variety because of diffi-
culty in harvesting due to its larger barrel, Preater height and higher yields.
Plantings of the other two varieties were increased for the 1962-63 and 1963-64
seasons. Standard cultural practices were followed in arowin7 the croos.
A Lundell 606 forage harvester equipped with a row cron head was used to
harvest the cane. It was necessary to remove the feed roll shields and the snrinp
loaded shields normally used for corn from the head to furnish an unobstructed
path for the cane to enter the throat. All knives except one were removed from
1/ Assistant A-ricultural Engineer, Everqlades Experiwent Station, Belle Glade,
2/ F. le Grand, Assistant AMronomist, Everalades Exneriment Station, Belle Glade,
the cutting cylinder and a counterweight was added for balance. A cylinder speech
of 1170 to 1200 rpm was found to work best. A speed lower than this tended to
plug the chopper spout. A higher speed chopped the cane finer than was necessary
and consumed more power. A tractor rated at 50 to 60 PTO horsepower was required
to operate the chopper properly.
For the past three years sugarcane on the Everglades Experiment Station has
been harvested and chopped mechanically and fed to cattle. The greatest problem
seems to be plugging of the gathering snouts by the dried leaves of the shedding
varieties (C.P. 57-475 and US 54-24-5). The leaves of these varieties drop on
top of the stools amone the stalks making it difficult for the gathering snouts
to penetrate the mass. One solution to this problem is to harvest the cane in
two passes over the field. On the first cut the machine is set as high as possi-
ble to remove the bulk of the crop. The second pass is made with the machine
lowered and in a direction of travel opposite to the first cut.
Burning the standing cane first to eliminate the trash removes the plugging
problem but introduces others. Rodent damage to the cane was severe and after
burning this was most evident. The leaves had supported the damaged stalks to
the extent that most were able to be gathered by the machine. After the support
was removed, many stalks fell to the ground and were missed by the chopper thus
increasing harvesting losses.
After cane is burned it should be harvested as soon as possible or it will
spoil. Therefore, if a cattleman plans to feed supplemental cane and burn before
harvesting, it is suggested that his fileds be arranged so that he can burn at
one time only that amount which he plans to harvest and feed within several days
In addition to the varieties selected specifically for mechanical harvesting,
about two acres of seedling cane were harvested with the Lundell chopper after
burning. Considering the various growth characteristics between stools of seed-
ling cane (various barrel sizes, stool widths, recumbent or upright growth, etc.)
the machine did a creditable job of harvesting. Two trips over the field with
the chopper were necessary.
Cattle expressed no preference for unburned cane over burned cane.
Second ratoon crops of C.P. 57-475 and US 54-24-5 and a plant crop of C.P.
57-475 were compared for yield and ease of harvesting during the 1963-64 season.
The ratoon crop was obviously lower in yield than the plant crop due partly to
severe rodent damage and subsequent lodging. Size of stalks and stools was also
less in ratoon cane than in plant cane. The plant cane, however, harvested much
easier because lodging was not present and stools were of a more uniform size.
Some characteristics of plant and second ratoon C.P. 57-475 forage cane are
Planting !width (in.) Stalks (No.) Dia. (in.) Length (in.)
Plant range 9-15 8-25 1/2 7/8 84-95
mean 11.2 16.7 3/4 89.4
2nd ratoon range 8-14 7-16 1/2 3/4 63-76
mean 10.9 12.2 5/8 67.3
The experience gained from the three seasons' cuttings show that with care-
ful operation of the tractor and chopper moderate tonnage forage cane can be
mechanically harvested and fed to animals.