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South Africa


Cane Growing Process

  • Tongaat Hulett Sugar South Africa has been growing and milling cane since 1854.
  • The average yield per hectare is 60 tons/hectare/annum.
  • Average rainfall is approximately 1000-1300 mm/annum, received mainly November to March.
  • The area is spread on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast between Durban and Empangeni, between 28 degrees and 30 degrees S latitude.
  • The cane is harvested over the period April to December of each year.
  • The majority of the cane is burnt prior to harvesting however there is a concerted effort to increase the area that is green cane harvested.
  • Cutting is mainly done by hand and with limited mechanical loading and harvesting.
  • Cane is transported to the Mills by rail, tractor-trailer or heavy road vehicles.
  • The sucrose % cane varies around 12.5 13.0%.
  • The supply of cane to the Tongaat Hulett Mills is made up of the following:
    • Company farmed land - 14%
    • Small growers/Medium Scale Growers - 17%
    • Large commercial growers - 69%

The operations under cane growing include the following:

Field Layout

Involves the initial leveling of the field, establishment of drainage systems, contour planning and the construction of roads which ensures ease of access to the field.


The two main objectives in land preparation are to effectively destroy the old crop and to prepare a seedbed which ensures good germination of the seedcane. Destruction of the old crop can be done by either mechanical or chemical means. Chemical preparation and planting is undertaken by means of furrow openers. Conventional preparation is done with ploughs and harrows.


There are two methods of planting, namely manual and mechanical. The cane setts are manually placed end to end (or overlapping) together with fertilizer in the furrow and then covered with soil. With mechanical planting, the three operations of opening the furrow, planting the setts and applying fertilizer are conducted simultaneously.

Ratoon Cultivation

Fertilizer is applied to promote development of the plant. Fertilizer can be spread by hand by applying a standard container of fertilizer over a pre-determined length of cane row. Mechanical distributors can also be used to apply fertilizer. Weed control methods employed will be either hand weeding or by application of herbicides.


Manual harvesting is practised on standing cane by a cane-cutter who cuts the stalks off at ground level. The cane is then stripped of any leaves and topped. Cane stalks are loaded into a bundle either by means of grab loaders or manually.

With mechanical cutting, a tractor mounted rotating disk fitted with sharp blades starts by cutting the standing cane stalks off at ground level and delivers into a bin at the rear of the harvester. The bin discharges bundles of cane every 30 metres for loading by a mechanical loader.

Infield Transport

Cane is transported from the field to an open area or siding by a tractor-drawn selfloading trailer. The trailer is positioned next to a cane bundle which is then winched and rolled onto the trailer. Alternatively, a Grab Loader picks up the bundle and places it into a waiting basket trailer. Cane which is loaded onto the trailer units is taken to the siding where the cane is stockpiled before delivery to the mill on a rateable basis.

Cane Loading

A mobile crane at the siding is used to tranship cane bundles from trailers to road or rail transporters.

Cane Haulage

The harvested cane can be transported by road from the siding to the mill yard in a heavy road vehicle or by rail. Alternatively, the cane is transported directly from the field to the mill yard in a tractor-drawn trailer.