Getting to Know Sugar Cane



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• Sugar cane begins with a 12 inch long "slip" cut from a stalk of cane. (Sort of a chicken or the egg kind of thing!)

• The cane slips are inserted into the earth by machine.

• The sugar cane does require irrigation and fertilization, but minimal attention from humans beyond that while it is growing.

• It takes 24 months from initial planting to harvest.

• A single cane stalk can produce three crops. Then the field is replanted with new slips.

• An acre of land can yield over 90 tons of cane or 12.5 tons of raw sugar.

• Cane field burning is used to clear debris and excess leaves from the cane. It does not "cook" or prepare the cane in any way.

• Cane spiders are not poisonous... although they may cause heart attacks when you find an especially large one in the shower!


• The cane burning must be carefully scheduled to take advantage of favorable winds and weather conditions. The sugar companies have teams that coordinate within the company and communicate to the public. Often, announcements of planned harvests are made on the radio. Use the information and take another route if at all possible. Oh, be sure to close your windows before leaving your accommodations. Of course, car windows should be closed before approaching the burn area and kept closed until all smoke has cleared.

• Bystanders can get in the way. It is NOT safe to stop near a burn and it is foolhardy to even get close. Fires are carefully monitored, but a sudden wind shift can direct smoke or flames in any direction. The smoke can be dense enough to disorient anyone and the dry fields burn quickly.

• When driving through cane smoke, headlights may be used if needed. Crews of off-duty police help direct traffic during the burning and harvesting on major roads including the major highways. Follow their directions; the momentum of huge cane trucks loaded with harvested stalks can be impossible to stop.