The Sugarcane Crop


Sugarcane was already known as a wild reed thousands of years before Jesus Christ, mostly in Asia. Crystallized cane sugar was called by its Sanskrit name of “sarkara” later to become the root of the word “sugar”in all Indo-European languages. Christopher Columbus imported sugarcane to the Antilles as early as 1493. Today, the cane is a hybrid product derived from several species — the wild Saccharum Robustum from New Guinea; the rustic Saccharum Spontaneum, more resistant to hurricanes thanks to its deep running roots, the noble Saccharum Officinarum, rich in sugar. It is chosen with regards to ecological references regarding each region and the farming objectives.

The growth cycle

The period of exploitation of the sugarcane plant is from five to eight years. Composed of a series on knots and inter-knots ten to fifteen centimeters apart, the stems are yellow, violet or brown depending on the species and their exposure to the sun. In the Caribbean, in November and in December, some of them emit white, gray or mauve inflorescence: they are what is known as the “flèches” or top shoots.

The vegetative cycle is twelve months. They multiply through cutting of the woody stump. The buds give birth to stems which branch out successively during four months. The ripening phase commences at the ninth month, when the stems are rich with sugar due to the combination of draught, evening coolness and photosynthesis.


Two more months of sun are required for the cane to ripen. Harvesting consists of cutting the cane the closest to the ground as possible and eliminating the tops or “bout blancs” (white tips). On smaller farms, this is done with a cutlass. In medium-sized farms, or farms located on hillsides, the cane is cut by hand and gathered mechanically with a cane loader. On large farms located in the plains, huge engines do the cutting and gathering at the same time.

Often, to facilitate the work of the cutters, the fields are burnt to chase any harmful animals and to rid the cane of its leaves. The cutter, paid by weighed bundles, hence increases his/her productivity.