Sugarcane is one of the industrial crops grown in Kenya mostly the main crop in western Kenya. The sector has not been vibrant for the past ten years following low cane productions coupled by mismanagement of sugar companies such as Mumias which has being severely affected. Farmers have diverted their farming energy to other ventures such as arable farming to earn a living. Kenya can be self-sufficient in sugar production but we find ourselves importing the same products from our neighboring countries such as Uganda despite of favorable conditions that supports cane production and multi-billion sugar industries that currently are not capable of producing enough sugar to meet Kenya’s population demand. This article focuses to give detailed step by step guide on how to manage sugarcane field in the best way possible to meet the required yield per given piece of land and to produce high quality canes.
Rainfall-require high rainfallranging between 1200mm-1500mm
Soil and pH-well drained sandy, loam and clay are ideal. The crop tolerates acidic and basic soils but pH of 6.5 is more ideal
Temperature- 20-270c are ideal
- EAK 69-47, EAK 70-97, EAK 71-402 and CO 945, released in 1990
- N14, CO 1148 and CB 38-22, released in 1998
- KEN 82-216, KEN 82-219, KEN 83-737, KEN 82-808, KEN 82-401 and KEN 82-247, released in 2002
- KEN 82-472, EAK 73-335, KEN 85-83 and D 8484, released in 2006
MAIN GROWING AREAS
Muhoroni, Chemelil, Miwani and Sony in Nyanza Province, Mumias, Nzoia and West Kenya in Westem Province, Busia District, Tana River District and Homa Bay District.
The crop is mainly propagated vegetatively by the use of cane setts/ cuttings, bud chips. The cuttings can be planted directly to the main seed bed, the buds are raised on a nursery at a spacing of 15cm by 10cm prior to transplanting to the main field.
Land should be ploughed deeply to remove obstacles and plant debris, tractor drawn implements are more preferable especially the disc plough as it helps in the achievement of the required tilth. Land preparation should be done during the dry spell to avoid formation of “hard pans” which affect drainage and root penetration into the soil.
Secondary cultivation is also recommended to further break the soil clods, refining the tilth, trash removal and laying out the field. Chisel or subsoilers are the most effective implements for this operation, the implement should be adjusted to plough to a depth of 50cm to 75cm in order to break any hardpan that might be present. Levelling should follow to allow the require drainage on the cane field. Planting furrows should be made at a depth of 25cm.
There are two planting methods namely ridge and furrow, flat methods. Ridge and furrow are preferred due to moisture retention. Planting should be done during the onset of rain if rain-fed, irrigated crop can be planted during any spell. Planting should be done at a spacing of 1.0m by 1.3m by 0.5m depending on soil fertility and cane variety in question. Diammonium phosphate can be spread in the planting furrows just before planting as it helps in development and growth of roots, enhancing rapid establishment of the crop.
NPK are the major nutrient requirement and they should be sufficient for crop growth and development. Top dressing should be done 30-45 days after planting, this is the tillering stage of the crop and requires high levels of nitrogen, N also helps in canopy development.
Phosphorus should be supplemented during the formative phase though from the initial crop establishment it should be in adequate as it helps in good root formation hence helping the plants to feed at ease.
Potassium should be appliedalongside nitrogen as it helps utilization of N, it also helps in sugar recovery hence should be applied at the 6th month of crop growth.
The frequency of irrigation depends on the stage of development of the cane. Light, frequent irrigations are preferred when the seed is germinating and the young seedlings are getting established. As the root system extends into deeper and deeper into the soil, the irrigation intervals should be extended, and the amount of water applied with each irrigation increased. As the cane approaches maturity, extended irrigation intervals should be scheduled to reduce the rate of vegetative growth, dehydrate the cane, and force the conversation of reducing sugars to recoverable sucrose.
Mechanical weeding should be done where applicable, selective herbicides can be utilized where mechanical weeding is uneconomical. The field should be kept weed free throughout the growing period to avoid competition for crop nutrients and alternating of pests such as aphids.
Early shoot borer- The pest attacks the shoot and cane stems just before nodes start forming, it feeds on the shoot and internal system of the stem. Affected plants have stunted growth and may die resulting to low plant population. Plants that survive the pest injuries have low sugar quality, especially when the stems are attacked.
Internode borer- The pest attacks the crop immediately after internodes starts forming. It destroys the stem lowering the quality, affected plants show stunted growth hence crop uniformity is compromised.
Scale insects- Most prevalent in hot humid conditions, they are found on the internode with sheath. Shoots of the affected plants die, leaves die at the tips and turn pale yellow which finally turn yellow.
Termites- Majorly attack the crop after plantingdamaging the soft tissues, severe attack leads to weak plants with reduced vigor.
White flies – sucking insects, deprive plants moisture leading to retarded growth, they produce honey dew that covers the leaf surface reducing photosynthetic area. They also cause substantial sugar loss up to 3%.
Red rot-Yellowing and drying of leaves from margin to midrib, drying of the entire top including the crown, loss of natural color and considerable shrinkage of the stalk, appearance of reddish lesions on some of the external symptoms of red rot disease.
Smut-Characteristic symptom is the production of long whip like structure from the terminal bud of the stalk, which is black in colour covered by thin silvery membrane. This silvery membrane ruptures releasing millions of reproductive spores of smut fungus, which are present in the form of powdery mass.Lead to about 3-7% sucrose loss.
Ratoon stunting- spread by harvesting tools, affected plants have stunted growth, pale yellowing of leaves, rapid tapering of the stems at the top and short internodes which are thin and not succulent.
NB: For quality sugarcane production timely pest and disease management is key aspect during production period. Cultural measures should be deployed first, upon fail chemical means should be executed.
Its done in between 9-24 months, its recommended to use a very sharp panga that will not destroy the stump for easy and faster regeneration. Some farmers set fir first to drive away snakes and to clear excess leaves that hinder fast harvesting operation, this should be highly discouraged as the fire might spread to unintended areas. Well managed sugarcane field should yield roughly 45-53 tonnes per hectare.
POST HARVEST HANDLING
Harvested canes should be loaded into lorries or tractors and taken to the factory after harvesting for crushing, this ensures good quality sugar. All canes should be collected from the field to avoid quantity loss, the transporting lorry/tractor should be loaded properly as it has been noted that there has been substantial quantity loss between the farms and factory during transportation. Contractsed transporters should be monitored as they transport canes from farms to factories