Harvesting sugar cane

While most people are familiar with sugar cane, they may not be aware that it accounts for nearly half of the sugar in the United States; the other half comes from sugar beets. A tropical grass that flourishes in hot, wet climates, sugar cane can grow 10-20 feet high by the time it’s ready to be harvested.

Fall is a busy time for sugar cane growers. Not only does it mean harvest, but also planting season. Sugar cane’s growing season is about one year, much different than traditional crops planted in the spring and harvested in the fall.

Harvest Time

Harvest takes place rain or shine, and the often muddy sugar cane fields necessitate harvesters mounted on tracks instead of wheels which get stuck in the muck. Moving through the rows, the harvesters stand up the cane and cut it a few inches above the ground. Sugar cane is a perennial grass, meaning it doesn’t have to be replanted every year. A new shoot will sprout from the cut stalks of cane for the next harvest. Typically, farmers will harvest crop from one planting for 3-5 years. 

Once the cane is cut, rotating arms strip off leaves and undergrowth and move the stalks though cutters that chop them into smaller pieces. A conveyer arm transfers the stalk pieces to a tractor pulling a large hopper-style trailer.

From Sugar Cane to Real Sugar

The cane is transported to a nearby raw sugar mill. Samples taken from each load to test sugar content establish the price paid to the farmer. Conveyer belts then move the sugar cane through the mill and a series of steps to extract the sucrose (sugar) from the sugar cane. The result is raw sugar, which is not yet food grade. This raw sugar is transported to a refinery to finish the process. At the refinery it is washed, crystallized, dried and packaged.

From the farm to your pantry, the result is pure, real sugar

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