Working with Louisiana sugarcane farmers
By Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
October 31, 2017

ABE researcher, Dr. Md. Abdul Momin, shares his #ACESstory!

As a post-doctoral research associate, originally from Bangladesh and currently in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, I work under the supervision of Alan Hansen, professor in ABE. My project involves harvesting machinery technology development for precision and sustainable sugarcane production.

In early 2016, substantial efforts to visit Brazil, the largest global producer of sugar cane, in order to carry out field tests and capture data for the project failed. Fortunately, an alternative sugar cane farm site for testing was identified in Louisiana, and arrangements were made to visit there from November 20-25.

After a long 12-hour drive, our team comprising me, Paul, Bau and Theja arrived in Thibodaux, Louisiana. The following morning we visited the sugarcane farm site near Edgard, Louisiana, to conduct the field experiments. The farmer, Brandon Gravois, and his team were appreciative of our help and welcomed us with enthusiasm and energy. We divided into two groups, one to collect data associated with the sugarcane harvester and another to fly a drone over the entire field to capture aerial images at different altitudes. This was my first experience working with sugarcane and with such a giant harvester – a John Deere 3520.

Sugarcane is a perennial grass, and propagation is carried out vegetatively, i.e., regrowth occurs from the leftover portion of the harvested stem. This practice is called ratooning. The sugarcane in this field was in its second ratoon. The harvester first cut the sugarcane at its base and removed unwanted leafy material from the top of the stem. Then fed the sugarcane into a chopper where the stems were cut into billets approximately 6 to 10 inches in length. The unwanted materials were removed by the extractor fans, and the billets were dumped into a wagon.

Harvesting operations in Louisiana generally consist of one or two track-type mechanical harvesters, a series of tractors pulling 6-12 ton dump wagons, and a fleet of 18-wheeler semi-trucks. The wagons are loaded by the harvester while traveling through the field and are then driven to a second site for unloading into the trucks. Each truck carries up to approximately 30 tons of harvested sugarcane billets to the mill for further processing.

Although my family and I missed each other during this Thanksgiving week, the Gravois family invited our team to dinner on Thanksgiving Day. It was a very interesting and enjoyable dinner party with all his family members. His parents were awesome, and we had a great talk with his uncle, a Vietnam veteran. All in all, this was a very fruitful trip, and we were fortunate to be able to work with a great sugarcane farmer and his family.