After the sugarcane harvest season finished in March 2017, the agronomy team is focussed on ratooning the existing sets, and planting new sets to expand the size of the farm, and increasing the production for 2018.
Sugarcane is grown by replanting part of a mature cane stalk. Farmers cut some of the fully grown cane stalks into lengths of about 40 cm called “setts”. The setts are manually planted by local farmers, who drop them into furrows, add fertiliser and cover them with soil.
One month after ratooning and planting, the sugarcane has germinated and the new growth is on track.
Sugarcane needs strong sunlight, fertile soil and lots of water (at least 1.5 metres of rain each year or access to irrigation) to grow. After a few weeks new shoots grow from buds on the joints of the setts and break through the surface of the soil. Up to 12 stalks grow from each sett, forming what is known as the stool of sugarcane.
A crop of cane takes about 9-12 months to grow in Sierra Leone. Typically, a cropping cycle comprises one plant crop and 3-4 ratoon (regrowth) crops. When ripe, the cane is usually about 2-4 metres tall.
Sugar is actually made in the leaves of the sugarcane plant by a natural process called photosynthesis and then the sugar is stored as sweet juice in its stalks. Photosynthesis is when the plant takes in carbon dioxide from the air though pores in its leaves and absorbs water through its roots. These combined to make sugar using energy from the sun and with the help of a substance called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is green which allows it to absorb the sun’s energy more readily and which, of course, gives the plants’ leaves their green colour. The sugarcane stalks are harvested and converted into raw sugar
When fully grown, the sugarcane itself looks like bamboo stalks and it is in the stalks that the plant stores energy that it doesn’t need straight away. Sugar is actually made in the leaves of the sugarcane plant by a natural process called photosynthesis and then the sugar is stored as sweet juice in its stalks.
When harvested, the stalks will be crushed, and the extracted sugar juice will be converted into ethanol and the waste biomass (bagasse) will be burnt in the boilers to produce power.