Sugarcane Improvement and Variety Development

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

The first improvements in sugarcane resulted from the selection of sweeter, less fibrous types suitable for chewing. Sugarcane breeding is widely acknowledged as the principal method for improving productivity and lowering costs. Sugarcane varieties are the lifeblood of most major sugarcane industries. Further, variety diversification is essential to the survival of most sugar industries worldwide. The modern varieties, such as HoCP 96-540, HoCP 00-950, and L 01-299, have many different and often specific traits, such as high cane or sugar yield, good ratooning or stubbling ability, low fiber, and good sucrose extraction, which give them an advantage over the older varieties, such as CP 65-357, CP 70-321, and LCP 85-384. The variety must also have tolerance to disease and insect pests, be adapted to the local climate and soil environment, and fit into the management system in use. A variety might start out well but suddenly give way to a change in insect pests or disease pressure or to a new introduced pest or disease. Six to twelve or more years are generally required to develop a new variety using conventional breeding and selection techniques from the year the cross is made until its release as a commercial variety. Through the application of biotechnology and the use of genetic transformation and molecular markers, the industry is on the threshold of a potential revolution in sugarcane improvement.