Original Articles

Advances in sugarcane soil fertility research in Southern Africa


The South African sugar industry is a modern, well organised industry and highly cost-competitive in world terms, producing some 2.3 million tons of sugar annually from 20 million tons of cane. The bulk of the cane is produced by some 1626 large scale growers (80%) and the rest is split between 36 500 small scale growers (11%) and milling companies with sugar estates (9%). As part of the 25th anniversary of SA Journal of Plant and Soil, a three-part review is given of recent soil and crop science based research initiatives conducted by the South African Sugar Industry in studying the impact of: (a) Soil fertility in determining the main nutritional requirements of sugarcane, (b) Soil factors limiting climatic potential including water intake due to surface crusting, soil loss through erosion, low available moisture capacity, soil organic matter loss, acidification and water logging during wet seasons, and (c) Better soil management strategies based on crop residue retention, nutrient recycling, minimum tillage, ridge tillage, cover crops and intercropping, to conserve soil and water more effectively, increase soil organic matter, improve fertiliser use efficiency and reduce physical damage to soils during harvesting. It is imperative that the continued success of the industry be underpinned by high standards in environmental management.

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