Over the last couple of weeks, much activity has been seen around the sugarcane fields of Buriram. Harvest time is upon us for the most widely farmed crop in the entire world.
Sugarcane is harvested from November to March in much of Thailand. Agriculture of sugarcane in the country is amongst the world’s highest. In fact, Thailand are the second biggest exporter of sugar in the world behind Brazil.
The sugarcane plants are of course highly sought after for their sticky, sweet content called sucrose. As well as being used in numerous food products, often the sucrose is fermented to produce Ethanol. Many countries with large sugar production use the Ethanol produced in this manner for bio-fuel.
It is according to the Food And Agriculture Organization that sugarcane is the world’s largest crop by production quantity. It is estimated by the FAO that in 2013 about 26.0 million hectares, in more than 90 countries, with a worldwide harvest of 1.83 billion tons were grown.
Brazil comes out on top as the largest producer followed by India, China, and Thailand pops in at fourth. Pakistan takes the fifth largest sugarcane producer slot in the 2013 paper.
Sugarcane can actually take as much as two years to grow in some climates. In Thailand however, due to the intense heat and moist air, the process is far faster and can be a few to six months depending on weather conditions.
Although a very robust crop, care still needs to be taken in planting sugarcane. Despite needing much water to grow, water logged soil will kill off the burgeoning young plants. Balance needs to be struck of allowing enough water without drowning the roots.
Once established, the plant can be cut to a short stump and made to grow time and time again. This makes sugar cane a highly viable cash crop.
Altjough the crop can be re-used, lowering yields each re-growth year mean that new plants will be necessary up to ten years after the first harvest.
A number of viruses or bacteria can infect the sugar cane crop. Sugarcane mosaic virus being the most famous. If left unchecked this virus can spread through the entire crop.
Large sharp leaves are a recognizable feature of the plant which can tear clothes and cut skin.
Growing up to thirteen feet tall (four meters), the true grass species which is native to South Asia, drops many of its leaves and blooms flowers which then signals harvest time.
Harvest is by hand in most parts of the world. Initially the dead leaves of the plant are burnt off making huge fires which last only a few minutes.
Crop Being Burnt
After that the crop is ready to be cut. Manually the plant is cut leaving a few centimeters of stalk protruding out of the ground. The cut trunks of the crop are then stacked and loaded onto trucks.
Burnt Field Being Cut
In Thailand, simillar to the rice harvest, things are becoming more modern. Often a sugar cane combine harvester is used which takes much of the heavy labour out of the process. The harvester strips the stalks of the sugar cane plant and cuts them all to equal size.
Sugar Cane Combine Taking Much of The Work Out of The Harvest
The cut and sized stalks are then taken to factories for processing.
Prepared Stalks Being Offloaded in Buriram
Six Sugary Facts
- It is thought that sugarcane was first domesticated as a crop in New Guinea around 6000 BC with the earliest evidence of sugar production coming from ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts.
- The sugarcane plant is one of the most efficient at photosynthesizing (using the sun for chemical energy production)
- Brazil produced 739,267 Thousand Metric Tonnes of sugarcane in 2013. Thailand produced 100,096 Thousand Metric Tonnes in the same year.
- Peru had the highest yield per hectare in 2013 with an average crop yield of 133.71 tonnes per hectare.The world average was 70.77 tons per hectare.
- Sugarcane belongs to the grass family (Poaceae), that includes maize, wheat and rice.
- Thai sugar production is estimated to be 10.2 Million Tonnes for the 2014/15 season, a decline of 10% from the previous year which was almost a record year. However exports are still predicted to increase to 8.5 million metric tons.