(08/13/21) BATON ROUGE, La. — In a sugarcane field just outside of Cheneyville in Rapides Parish, Stacia Davis Conger and Justin Dufour are drilling, assembling and placing moisture sensors in the ground under stifling conditions.
Conger, AgCenter irrigation specialist, and Dufour, area ag agent for Avoyelles, Rapides and Grant parishes, have started a project looking at irrigation efficiency of sugarcane, a crop grown in areas that typically receive plenty of rainfall. While 70% of Louisiana’s corn crop is irrigated, less than 5% of the state’s 500,000 acres of sugarcane are.
“We don’t have a lot of scientific information to help our farmers irrigate when they need to irrigate,” Conger said. “They don’t know when or how much to put out.”
One reason for the increasing need for irrigation in sugarcane is Louisiana’s cane-growing area is expanding northward into central Louisiana. This area generally does not receive as much rainfall as south Louisiana and is more prone to dry periods.
The sensors being placed in the field will provide vital information in helping determine the moisture needs of the crop.
“These sensors actually allow us to evaluate how much of this cane crop took up considering the moisture content,” Dufour, said. “So, we’re able to gather all this data, whether it be a rainfall event or irrigation event.”
Some parts of central Louisiana have received nearly 70 inches of rain so far, which is more than what would fall during a typical year. Because of the abundant rainfall, it may not be necessary to irrigate any cane this year.
“We actually don’t need irrigation every year in this state,” Conger said. “Some seasons we get enough rainfall during that critical growth stage to be fine. Some years we don’t.”
Using irrigation to grow crops in Louisiana is common. Nearly 60% of the state’s cotton crop and 46% of its soybeans are irrigated. Adding another crop to the mix will require more water, so researchers are trying to find the most efficient strategies.
“We want to get an idea of how water moves through the soil — how the roots pull water from the soil and start developing irrigation recommendations for sugarcane,” Conger said.
While Australia uses irrigation on its sugarcane crop, Conger and Dufour have little information available to them regarding irrigation of sugarcane in the Western and Northern hemispheres.
“There’s really no significant research being done in this part of the world because of the nature of a sugarcane crop and where it’s typically grown,” Dufour said.
Conger said that not all fields are compatible for irrigating.
“We actually have of lot of oddly shaped fields — fields we can’t get water to or irrigate effectively,” she said. “Those fields will probably never be irrigated.”
The researchers are hopeful the data gathered from the sensors will provide some insight into recommendations for irrigation, which will help conserve water resources.
Justin Dufour, area ag agent for the LSU AgCenter, drills a hole to place a moisture sensor in a sugarcane field near Cheneyville in Rapides Parish. Dufour and AgCenter irrigation specialist Stacia Davis Conger are conducting a research project to recommend strategies for irrigating sugarcane, a crop that is not typically irrigated. Photo by Craig Gautreaux/LSU AgCenter