Everglades Experiment Station
Belle Glade, Florida
Mimeographed Report No. 11
THE PLANTING OF SUGAR CANE FOR FORAGE IN FLORIDA
by F. D. Stevens
THE PLANTING OF SUGAR CANE FOR FORAGE IN FLORIDA
F. D. Stevens, Sugar Cane Agronomist
Everglades Experiment Station, Belle Glade, Florida
Though sugar cane has been an established crop for centuries, questions re-
garding its culture come to this Station which show that some of the principles
involved are not well understood. It is the purpose of this discussion to review a
Sew of the practices concerning which questions are most frequently asked.
Each year there is a considerable demand made upon the Station during the
spring months for supplies of seed cane. These come from distances of 150 miles or
more, and the request usually is for considerable quantities irrespective of the fact
that transportation costs for hauling seed cane are rather high. This would indicate
that many planters do not know that the best time to plant cane in central and south
florida, and probably in north Florida as well, is during late summer or early fal..
At this time of year moisture and temperature conditions are adequate for quick germ-
ination and the seed, though perhaps not mature, is in prime condition, with eyes .core
or less compressed and bare, few if any missing, and all ready to respond with a he.vy
set of parent stalks even with single stalk plantings. By single stalk planting is
meant the laying of single stalks in the row, lapping tops over butts for a foot or
more. This is also called 1/4 lap planting. Thus a single cane stripping 7 feet will
cover a net space of approximately $ feet of row.
Cane for seed, even though it escapes cold damage in the Everglades, de-
teriorates progressively from December to April in that many eyes become dry and
either slough off or are eaten out by insects. This is especially true of older eyes
from the middle to the base of the stalk. Thus spring planting to insure a stand
with the use of such seed calls for double stalk or even heavier planting.
On the basis of 8820 feet of 5 foot rows or 7350 feet of 6 foot rows per
acre, excess seed required for spring over fall plant is calculated to be as follows:
Spring Plant Stalks per Acre, 5-foot rows 2520; 6-foot rows 2100
Fall Plant Stalks per Acre, 5-foot rows 1764; 6-foot rows 1470
Excess Stalks per Acre Spring over Fall Plant 756 630
Percent Excess . . 2.8
Excess Weight hauled @ 1.85# per Stalk 1398 lbs. 1166 Ibs.
Excess Weight hauled @ 3.00# per Stalk 2268 Ibs. 1890 Ibs.
In the above, the standard cane for forage or sirup, F31-762, averages 1.85
lbs. per stalk. Large barrel canes, if available, will weigh 3 lbs. per stalk, more
or less. The excess weight handled or hauled for spring plant over that required for
summer or fall plant should be a strong argument in favor of early planting. Further,
fall planting gets around the danger of lack of available seed through December or
later freezes ruining standing cane for planting. It also removes the necessity of
banking cane for spring planting in those regions where winter temperatures are suffi-
ciently low that seed cane will not sprout in the bank.
In Louisiana where winter temperatures not only freeze back top growth from
summer (August) or fall plant cane but also freeze the ground to a depth of an inch or
more, very little if any cane is now spring planted. Planters do not worry if tops are
frozen back for they know the underground portions of the stems have already made eyes;
two or more being located where on the original planted piece one only existed. Thece
eyes sprout with coming warm spring weather resulting in us heavy if not a heavier
stand than originally obtained. Tops killed back need not be disturbed for they will
disappear by harvest time.
Mosaic disease and the cane borer were joint causes of the practical dis-
,appearance of cane, even in small acreages, during the 1920-30 period for sirup in
central and south Florida. Du-ing this period the value of cane for forag-e woas not
generally appreciated. During -this period the borer had practically di"ppecared.
This fact was revealed by tost plantings of very susceptible borer free varja iies in
an area known to have been heavily populated in the earlier period. Examination of
both plant and 1st. stubble showed no borers present in these plantings.
Following this observation an attempt was made to keep the area free by
supplying inspected seed in limited quantities to growers, and warning others of the
dangers. Unprecedented demand for seed led growers to obtain a supply wherever avail-
able and with uncontrolled seed movement the borer rapidly became redistributed in
wide areas. Though an unexplained, natural control exists in the Everglades, infesta-
tion varies from year to year with a population varying from 6 to 35 percent or more.
Thus in moving cane for spring planting of 1 acre from this area there is a chance of
taking with it from 126 to 151 borer larvae from 6 percent borer infested fields. With
less cane required for fall planting from 88 to 106 larvae would be taken in plant
One consoling fact is that these worms pupate in the planted stalk and emerge
as delicate moths. As moths they find difficulty in working themselves free of a soil'
covering so that many perish. Some few, however, will escape from cuttings which-b nd
upward and are exposed or are under only a very light soil covering. The life cycle
of the insect is rather rapid, being about 30 days in warm to 46 days in cool weather.
One moth will lay from 5 to 6 egg masses averaging about 25 eggs each. Al3. will Iot
hatch and many larvae that do hatch will perish from one cause or another. If b-r; :.2
from the 125 to 150 eggs laid by 1 moth survive, the prospective increase during suc-
cessive 30 day cycles stands as follows:
Stalks Newly bored Previously bored Total
First 30 days 12 0 12
Second 30 days 144 12 156
Third 30 days 1728 156 18Fi
Fourth 30 days 20736 1884 226. 0
Fifth 30 days 248832 22620 273 .)2
With cane running 30,000 stalks per acre there would be the possibility, at
this rate of increase, of a 6 percent infestation during the 90 day period, a 75 per-
cent during the 120, and a population during the 150 day period of 7 or more borers
Dirt and excrement left in the tunnels of bored cane contaminates the juice
and is removed with difficulty in skimming for open pan sirup thus sirup from such
damaged cane is of poor grade. The same degree of damage is done to canes that are
to be used for forage. A 75 percent infestation will reduce mill cane yield by around
1lany ar3 asking about methods of checking borer increase or of eradicating
the insect. Parasites have been purchased or bred and released in cane for some years.
These have not been found to over-winter well in most areas so their release is a
yearly affair, and usually the work is done by trained entomologists. For the above
reasons resort to use of parasites by growers of limited acreages seems out of the
qu'estbion. U'ithin the past few years dusts have come into prominence. Principal
among these is cryolite which used undiluted in 4 successive dustings at a cost of $7
to $8 per acre has given good control. Dusting commences with first appearance of the
s,-.ll worms and at weekly intervals until I treatments are applied. Further treat-
mint" are coordinated thereafter with appearance of successive generations. Dusting
in likewise an annual affair.
The cheapest method of control available to growers of limited acreages is
that of ridding seed cane of the larvae, and the mealy bug as well, by immersing it in
water for not less than 72 hours, and planting as taken from the water before drying.
If pure uncontaminated branch or spring water is available immersion may be in excess
of 72 hours with no decomposition of the eyes. A very few worms may survive this
treatment and appear as moths to deposit eggs and reestablish an infestation. To Sore-
fell such, walk the field at weekly intervals commencing with appearance of mother
stalks and cut shoots showing dead hearts below ground level, split them lengthwise
and kill the larvae. The dead unfolding growth of the whorl is a "flag" indicating
a dead heart caused by insect attack. Inspections should continue at 10 to 15 day
intervals during early growth of the cane.
One having infested cane may still use it for seed by immersing it before
planting. Fall planting with 1/4 lap on 5 foot rows requires 1764 stalks of F31-762
per acre or 1470 stalks for 6 foot rows. If immersion of seed is too much of a job,
this can be taken care of by planting a few feet of row for seed production. Let this
be 1/4 to 1/2 mile distant from the infested field and to the windward side. F31-762
will plant 17 to 1, at which rate 87 to 104 canes will plant 432 to 518 feet of row
which will furnish borer free seed to plant an acre in 6 and 5 foot rows respectively.
Immersion of 87 to 104 canes reduces labor far below that required in treating seed
,to plant 1 acre at the start.
1Vhere planting of the desired acreage is made from this seed producing patch
it is time to do away with infested stubble, in which borers overwinter. Cane is
easily killed by burying it, therefore cover the row with dirt to as great a depth as
possible with the plow, leaving no stubble exposed. Uoths cannot get through this
heavy covering, and very few new shoots will succeed in doing so, the few that do may
be destroyed by discing.
The question is asked how deep should cane be planted? The answer is plant
deep but cover lightly. In soils not wind blown it is well to open furrows to 8 to 10
inches depth. Lay cane in the furrows and cut it into 3 or more eye pieces with ma-
chetes so that it will lay flat in the furrows. Cover with about 4 inches of dirt.
An 8 inch deep furrow with seed covered with 4 inches leaves a 4 inch depression.
.Then cane has formed a complete clump, sift about 2 inches of dirt into it with disc
or cultivator. A second covering will bring the row to field level. These cultiva-
tions will smother weeds in the row to some extent.
In subsequent cultivations remember that about 80 percent of the roots are
in the top 4 to 5 inches of soil and extend into the middles to a distance equal to
height of the plants. Cultivations should be shallow for such distances that these
roots be not disturbed any more than necessary. Centers not yet reached by the roots
may be worked to greater depths. On 6 foot rows with cane 3 feet high cultivation
should be shallow over the entire middle.
Stubble cane is much like a plant cane crop in that it comes from eyes on
underground portions of the harvested crop, with this difference that it receives
nourishment from 20 percent of the deep seated roots of the proceeding crop, until it
establishes a root system of its own. Therefore it may be "off-barred" and the middles
worked deeply for penetration of that new root system. Fertilizer may be distributed
in the off-barred furrow and dirt lapped back over it. After this cultivations are
the same as for plant cane.
In harvesting the cane should be cut as close to ground level as possible.
Each 6 inches left above ground level means from 2 to 3 tons per acre left in the field.
Also high cut stubble one year means higher cut the following year as dry woody old
stubs are difficult to cut and cutters cut above them.
Cane may be harvested for forage in those sections of south Florida not af-
fected by freezing weather practically the year around. In areas subject to freeze
feeding begun in September may extend well beyond the date of freeze, in all 180 to
390 days. Cane in bloom will not deteriorate as rapidly following a freeze as that
which has not bloomed. Cane in bloom may be fed for 40 to 50 days following a freeze
before cattle refuse the chopped material. Cane which has not bloomed can be fed in
its entirety only for shorter periods depending on weather following the freeze. In
this latter case the feeding period is prolonged by discarding the sourer tops feeding
the bottom 2/3 on the stalk, and continuing by lowering the topping until the bottom
1/2 or less of the stalk is utilized.
Acreage to plant for forage depends on anticipated cane yields, number of
head to feed, amount per head per day and desired length of feeding period. As an
example let the performance of the seedling F31-762, as planted on Arredonda loamy
fine sand fertilized with 500 pounds 10-8-6 goods, be considered.
Total cane per acre 97362 pounds; stripped cane 57993 pounds, percent tops
40.60. At 30 pounds per head per day the 97362 pounds would serve 25 head of cattle
through a 130 day feeding period.
Sugar cane is low in protein and high in carbohydrates thus it should be
fortified with cotton seed meal or other protein feeds during periods when it is
practically the sole source of forage to prevent cattle from losing weight. It is an
excellent roughage to be used as a supplement during periods of pasture shortage.
Steers on full concentrate feed in the dry lot will consume about 25 pounds
of cane each, daily. Used along with pasture, beef cattle can be expected to consume
25 to 30 pounds per day per head.
Dairy cows may make good use of larger amounts, but fed to excess there is
a possibility that under certain conditions abnormal flavors may develop in the milk.
Cows will eat whole cane by chewing from one end of the stalk, Fed whole
stalks there is a waste involved and enough is not consumed for a maintenance ration.
This method of feeding is not recommended. There is practically no waste if cane is
run through an ensilage cutter set to make 2 or 3 cuts per inch. Ensilage cut cane
must be fed within 24 hours since, in bulk, it heats and sours if held for longer
1. Summer or fall planting has several advantages over spring planting.
2. A method of establishing borer free plantings is outlined.
3. Plant deep and cover lightly. Do not "bury" seed pieces.
4. Cultivate shallow, do not cut surface feeder roots.
5. Do away with borer infested plantings by lapping a deep furrow of dirt
onto and completely covering stubble following harvest.
6. Sugar cane is a heavy yielding forage producer and especially useful
along with cotton seed meal or other protein feed when grass is frozen
back to tide over until pastures recover. For best results it should
be supplemented with cotton seed meal or other good protein feed.
7. Factors for determining necessary acreage for forage are given.