The first step in preparing a field for planting is to plow and loosen the soil before the seed cane is planted. Only disease-resistant cane varieties are selected for planting at HC&S. Insects and pests are controlled biologically, using natural predators.
Short pieces of cane stalks—called seed billets—are planted by machines that dig the furrows, drop the cane pieces and inject the irrigation tubing, all at one time. Workers adjust billet placement when necessary, to ensure they are evenly spaced.
During the initial growing stage, the sugarcane is highly dependent on a stable water supply to survive. An efficient system of drip irrigation supplies water and fertilizer directly to the cane roots. HC&S monitors the weather, soil type and moisture, and cane tissue to determine how much water and fertilizer the plants need.
HC&S is stingy with its water and costly fertilizers, applying only what is needed. No fertilizer is applied in the last 12 months before harvesting. Sand filters throughout the plantation remove sediment from the irrigation water to reduce plugging in the drip tubing.
Weeds must be kept in check because they compete with cane plants for water and nutrients. HC&S uses herbicides for only the first six months of growth while the cane is still short.
When the cane is about two years old and ready to harvest, the fields are burned to remove the leaves, leaving just the juice-filled stalks for transport to the mill. Each field is burned only once every two years. We carefully monitor weather conditions prior to each burn, including wind speed and direction, and we utilize forecasts and models to plan our pre-harvest burns so as to minimize the inconvenience to our neighbors. We also make our harvesting schedule available to the public a week in advance, and provide real-time updates. You can access our most recent schedule here or sign up to receive free email or text alerts here.
After burning, harvesting machines push the cane stalks into large windrows. The cane stalks are then loaded into huge trucks called tournahaulers, which can carry up to 55 tons per load. Many truckloads are required to haul the harvested cane from each field to the factory. To preserve sugar content, it is important to get the harvested cane to the mill for processing as soon as possible. Since the mill runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during the harvest seasons, harvesting is a round-the-clock operation at HC&S.