How to improve sugar recovery
By Hafeez Ur Rehman,
Dr M. Farooq & Dr Shahzad Basra
an increase in area under cultivation, timely rain,
judicious use of fertilisers, improved cultural
practices and better management, sugar crisis is still
looming large in the country.
Apart from low procurement price offered by mill owners,
one of the main reasons for the crisis is the poor sugar
recovery rate from the crushed cane. Sugar recovery here
is hardly eight per cent whereas in many countries it is
12-14 per cent. The average cane yield at the rate of 53
ton per hectare is far below the existing potential of
the country’s crop.
Irrespective of policy and economic factors which are
beyond farmers’ reach, some important measures to reduce
the cost of production and improve cane recovery include
improved production practices, nutrient and water
management, insects pest management, post-harvest
handling together with exploiting the potential of
Improved production practices: Preparatory tillage is an
important operation in sugarcane cultivation. Since
sugarcane is a deep-rooted crop penetrating up to 90cm
inside soil, tillage practices can help in development
of better root system and optimal growth of the crop.
For proper growth some farmyard manure and green manure
should be added to the soil one month prior to land
Selection of quality seed is important for high yield.
Seeds for varieties of sugarcane with variable sugar
contents are available in different parts of the
country. Sets or cuttings used for propagation should be
fresh and juicy, free from insect pest and disease and
9-10 months old. Eyes buds for seed should be fully
developed from planted crop. The seed should be treated
with proper fungicides.
Planting time and method: Appropriate planting method
and time greatly influence growth, maturity and yield of
To maximise production, it is necessary to follow
planting times without affecting yield from late
planting. However, September crop is harvested with
higher yield of 25-35 per cent and better sugary
recovery due to luxurious vegetative growth compared to
Appropriate seed rate with proper row or furrow spacing
are the key to achieving optimum plant population for
high production. Generally for medium to thin varieties
high seed rate is used than thick cane in order to get
desired plant population and to facilitate intercultural
operations. Recently, spaced transplanting method with
single eye set, paired row and wide furrow row method
have been introduced in neighbouring country; these
should also be tried here.
Nutrient & water management: Water and fertiliser
requirements of sugarcane are very high. Framers should
take care of irrigations in sugarcane particularly
during the summer and should adjust irrigation
requirement according to available water at farm level.
The crop requires 16-20 irrigations. Drip irrigation
saves 40-70 per cent water, improves sugar recovery up
to one per cent, increases fertiliser use efficiency,
saves electric power in pumping, improves insect and
pest control, and reduces labour costs. Although
initially installation costs are high, it can be
overcome by other advantages.
For proper mineral nutrition of the crop, it is
necessary to have knowledge of growth physiology.
However, fertilisers’ efficiency can be increased when
they are applied through irrigation water as in case of
Pest management: There is need of integrated practices
to control weeds, insects and pests in sugarcane to get
high yield. These include intercultural practices for
weed control, earthing up, and application of herbicides
for proper weed control with the help of technical
Inter-culture: To keep field free from weeds
inter-culture of crop is helpful as it provides proper
aeration in the effective root zone. Hoeing is done for
better aeration water penetrability and weed control. In
sugarcane intercropping of onion, potato etc. is done
for getting high economic returns at early stages of
cane crop. Inter-crop species should be restorative, not
heavy feeder, with shallow root system and of short
Ratoon management: For high benefits ratooning is
necessary in sugarcane by eliminating the expenses at
land preparation, planting material costs and planting
expenses. By good irrigation and nutrient management, it
is better to get high yield from ratoon crop. Ratooning
of cane harvested before February is preferred. The
sugar recovery in ratoon crop is also better and it
matures earlier than the plant crop.
Cane from the fields to be kept for ratoon should be cut
at ground level. Sugarcane planted in two row strips 90
cm apart not only ratoon well but also gave higher
yields for each of three planting treatments than three
and four-row strip planting systems. Fill the gaps;
control the weeds, insect pests and diseases properly.
In case of severe attack of any insect, do not keep the
crop as ratoon.
For better crop, disease-free, healthy seeds should be
used. Preferably disease-resistant varieties treated
with fungicide should be planted. Diseased plants should
be removed from the field and should either be buried or
The cane should be harvested after it has attained
maturity acquiring maximum weight by adopting right
technique avoiding field losses. Harvesting of either
immature or over-aged cane with improper method leads to
loss of yield, sugar recovery, poor juice quality and
problems in milling.
One month prior to harvesting, irrigation should be
stopped and the harvested crop should not be left in the
field for long. If at all kept in the field for longer
period, it should be covered with trash. Different
varieties should be harvested according to their period
of maturity. The crop harvested during February-March
gives good ratoon crop.
Several methods are available to determine the maturity
of the crop so that it may be harvested at right time.
Many farmers harvest their crop based on its age and
appearance. Sometimes farmers harvest the crop even
before it attains maturity necessitated by mills demand.
Delays in harvesting are also quite common, particularly
when there is excess cane area. Harvesting should always
be at right time employing right method for better
In many countries including ours even today harvesting
is done manually. Among several tools, the cutting blade
is usually heavier and facilitates easier and efficient
cutting of cane. Manual harvesting requires skilled
labour as improper harvest leads to loss of cane and
sugar yield, poor juice quality and problems in milling.
But the problem is that harvesting labour is becoming
scarce and costly.
There is also need to establish more research institutes
for the development of crop production and increased
recovery from the crushed cane in order to attain
autarky in sugar and earn foreign exchange.
Courtesy: The DAWN