On the eastern shore of Florida’s vast Lake Okeechobee sits the USDA-ARS Sugarcane Field Station, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The location was chosen in 1920 because of the lake’s moderating effect on temperatures—keeping them above freezing in the winter. This mild climate is perfect for growing sugarcane, and it has helped the station achieve great success in breeding new and better cultivars and gain international recognition for its high-quality research.
The station, located in Canal Point, was originally established to supply “true seed” (seed from crosses of female and male parental plants) for USDA’s sugarcane breeding program in Houma, LA, and that mission guides the station to this day. But beginning in the 1960s, the station began developing cultivars that would grow well in Florida. Those cultivars bear the prefix “CP” for Canal Point. Since 1980, Florida’s sugar yield has increased from 4.51 tons per acre to 6.13 tons per acre, mainly the result of higher yielding CP varieties.
The success of this effort spurred expansion into Texas. Numerous public-private research partnerships were formed, and today, almost 100 percent of the Texas commercial acreage is planted with CP varieties. Of the sugar consumed in the United States today (11 million metric tons per year), 36 percent is from sugarcane grown in those three states, according to Duli Zhao, the station’s research leader.
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