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Sugarcane Farming

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Pile of sugar cane after harvest.

South Florida’s climate and soil are perfect for growing sugarcane. During the planting season, from September through January, cane stalks are used like seeds. Cut into 20-inch pieces, they are laid in furrows and covered with soil. After a couple of weeks, sprouts appear, and the cane starts to grow in thick rows.

Sugarcane is harvested between October and March. Years ago, field workers cut cane stalks by hand with a short machete, wearing metal guards on their hands and legs to protect themselves from getting cut. The protection looked very similar to the armor worn by medieval knights. Since the 1990s, combine-like machines have done the harvesting, cutting the stalks at ground level and transferring them to trailers, which are taken to sugar mills for processing.

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Combine machinery harvesting sugarcane.

Florida’s subtropical climate attracts more pests and plant diseases than any other state. Insects, rats, and mice are a constant problem for farmers, who use a variety of methods to control the pests. About 25 years ago, one Glades sugarcane grower decided to replace poisonous pesticides with a natural method. Wayne Boynton set up large birdhouses all over his sugarcane fields, hoping that barn owls would find them attractive as nests. As soon as the owls moved in, they began catching and eating the rats and mice. A pair of nesting owls can eat at least 1,500 rats and mice a year, making for safe and natural pest control.

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