Sugarcane farming is an aspect of crop production that deals with the cultivation and growing of sugarcanes.
Sugarcane is a long, tall, perennial grass of the poaceae family which is primarily cultivated for its juice extracts which serve many purposes such as processing of sugar, biofuel production etc. A mature sugarcane plant usually grows to be 3-7 metres tall. It has fibrous stalks which are highly rich in sucrose sugar.
The poaceae family that sugarcane belongs to also has other notable members which are; maize, rice, wheat and sorghum. As it is a tropical plant it is extensively cultivated in the tropical regions of India, Asia, New Guinea and Brazil.
Benefits of sugarcane farming
It is an ideal agricultural investment: Sugarcane farming presents itself as a good agricultural investment as it requires low start up capital. Sugar farming does not also require any special training requirements or qualification. It is also a very profitable and lucrative investment as very little farmers in Nigeria practice sugarcane farming hence it is not a highly competitive business.
Sugarcane is used for sugar production: Sugarcane is an essential and integral raw material for producing sugar. This is because the extracts of the plant are naturally enriched with sucrose and fructose. Sucrose and fructose are sugars found naturally occurring in most plant tissues. This is what attributes to the sweet taste of sugarcane and its processed sugar.
Sugarcane serve as food: Sugarcane when raw is commonly consumed by most people. People peel off its outer covering and chew the juicy, white flesh so as to extract its juice. People also make soups with the stems of sugarcane. Also the flower head of sugarcane(saccharum echule) is eaten in its raw or cooked form by some people in some parts of Asia.
To produce alcoholic beverages: The brewing industry utilize extracts from the sugarcane plants to produce alcohols. Examples of these alcoholic drinks are; cachaça, basi, rum, falernum etc.
Sugarcanes serve as raw materials for the food processing industry: The food processing industry use sugarcane to produce sugarcane juice, sweeteners, flour. The sweeteners are used by the food industry in the production of confectionery, cakes, jams, pastry etc. Examples of such sweeteners include: sugar syrups, molasses, jaggery etc.
They as feed for livestock: Peels of sugarcane can be fed to livestock animals like goats, rams, sheep, cows. The peels are particularly good for making hay for livestock. The leaves of the sugarcane plants also serve as excellent forage crops for ruminant animals.
For biofuel and biogas production: Research as shown that sugar extracts from the juice of sugarcane plants can be fermented to produce ethanol. This byproduct of sugar production can be used to make biogas and biofuels. In many countries like brazil, ethanol serves as an alternative to gasoline and can be used in most vehicle’s combustion engines. Also, ethanol production is more energy efficient than those produced from corn or maize.
Sugarcane is used to make bagasse: Bagasse is the fibrous, white matter or residue left after sugarcane juice extraction. Bagasse can be used for a variety of uses which are; to serve as fuel source, as a source of pulp for paper production, to generate electricity etc.
It offers a range of health benefits: Consumption of sugarcane offers a lot of health benefits in return. These are: treatment of fever and sore throat, prevention of cancer, promotes wound healing and bone growth, regulation of the digestive system functioning etc.
People also use sugarcane reeds to make crafts like mats, baskets etc.
Steps to take to start sugarcane farming
Listed below are the steps to take when one intends to start a sugarcane farming business. The steps are;
Selection of suitable farmland or site
Sugarcane grows well and thrives on most soils, but however the soil must be fertile, well drained, rich in organic matter and not a waterlogged soil. For optimum growth, sugarcanes are best planted in a well drained sandy-loam soil with a pH level of about 5.5-7.5.
The soil should be loosened before any planting by ploughing and soil tillage. The farmer could make flat beds or ridges on the soil to plant the sugarcanes on. Any weeds on the farm site should be cleared and burnt. Pre emergent herbicides could also be applied on the site to prevent any weed growth.
How to Plant sugarcane stem cuttings
Sugarcanes are more commonly propagated with the aid of their stem cuttings. Healthy stem cuttings should be purchased by the farmer as healthy cuttings are free from pest and disease attack. The stem cuttings to be planted should have at least 3 visible nodes where the sugarcane shoots can sprout from. Sugarcanes should be planted horizontally on their sides.
This is important as they don’t germinate when planted vertically in the soil. When planting, the farmer should observe a spacing of about a feet apart to prevent overcrowding. The stem cuttings should be planted where they would have regular exposure to sunlight, as sugarcanes require much sunlight. It should be noted that sugarcane has certain planting periods i.e. October, July and around late February-early March.
Application of fertilizer in Sugarcane farming
Sugarcanes are perennial crops which mean that they require and utilize much soil nutrients as they remain for long periods of time in the soil. Fertilizers that are nitrogen rich are recommended for high sugarcane yield. Alternatively, the farmer could use manure from livestock animals if he can’t afford fertilizers. The fertilizers should applied during land preparation, the 6th, 14th and 35th week after planting.
Regular weeding of the farm
Weeds grow between sugarcanes and disturb their growth. The weeds should be removed on a regular basis on the farm as soon as they are spotted. The farmer can clear the weeds by hand, machineries or he can apply herbicides to kill the weeds.
Pest and disease control:
Pests like stem borers, army worms, turnip moths, termites, sugarcane borers affect the quality of sugarcanes by boring holes into the stem and leaves of the sugarcane plant. Animals like grass cutters and rodents eat up the stems of sugarcanes. The activities if these pests tend to expose the crops and make them more susceptible to a range of diseases like fungal growth, stock rot, sugarcane yellow leaf virus, sugarcane mosaic, maize streak virus etc.
These diseases also reduce the quality and quantity of sugarcane thereby causing the farmer losses. Pests and diseases can be controlled by; planting disease and pest resistant cultivars of sugarcane, usage of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and other recommended chemicals to prevent further pest and disease damage and the isolation and destruction of any disease infected sugarcane plant.