Raising Cane: ARS Research Benefits Sugarcane Growers and Processors

Monday 5 February 2007

There are currently 15 factories in Louisiana that turn cane into sugar. Now, several of them are benefiting from a more effective processing technology, thanks to work done by chemist Gillian Eggleston with the Agricultural Research Service in cooperation with the American Sugar Cane League (ASCL). The ASCL is a trade association representing Louisiana sugarcane growers and raw sugarcane processors. The scientist's work is, in fact, the culmination of a statewide agricultural revolution that began with the introduction of a new crop variety and also encompassed a change in harvesting technique.
From 1995 through 2000, Eggleston worked with factory operators and engineers to gather data and compare the three clarification processes (cold, intermediate and hot liming). During the last few years, she cooperated with Adrian Monge, the production manager for Cora-Texas Manufacturing Company in White Castle, Louisiana.

"Gillian came to the factory and talked to us about her research," Monge says. "We had already been investigating intermediate liming, but not hot liming. We decided to put in a hand to help, and we collected data with her. The research made a difference, and we ended up switching to hot liming. The results we got proved that the change was worth it."

Eggleston explains some of the benefits of hot liming: "By switching from cold to hot liming, a medium-size factory like Cora-Texas could reduce its sucrose losses enough to save $283,000 per season. That's a conservative estimate," she adds.

By making the switch, the same factory could also reduce its lime consumption by at least 20 percent. And, it would need 90 percent fewer chemicals to clean its heat exchangers.

Depending on the equipment they're using, factory managers might spend anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars to change from cold or intermediate to hot liming. "But," says Eggleston, "the economic advantages of operating hot liming across a sugarcane processing season more than make up for this investment in just 1 year."

Roddy Hulett, chairman of ASCL's Dedicated Research Funding Committee, has seen factorys take Eggleston's research to heart. "Our organization funds research like Gillian's," he says, "but we let the mills decide how to use the results."

The response has been overwhelming. Hulett says, "In 1995, only one factory in the state was using hot liming. As of late 2002, five factories were using it, and another one had made the switch in Florida. A sixth processor in Louisiana has committed to making the switch during the 2003 grinding season, and I expect we'll see even more factories go to hot liming next year.

"Gillian's work," he sums up, "shows the many economic and processing advantages gained by changing to hot liming, particularly now that growers harvest mostly billeted cane."

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