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J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Jul 17;50(15):4393-9.

Potential influence of sugarcane cultivation on estuarine water quality of Louisiana's gulf coast.

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Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 4115 Gourrier Avenue, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70808, USA.


Sugarcane is cultivated on some 170000 ha of land in south central and southwestern Louisiana. This acreage drains into bayous and rivers that empty into Louisiana's coastal bays and estuaries. For a number of years the state's Department of Agriculture and Forestry and Department of Environmental Quality have collected water quality data from this sugarcane area. Study of these data shows that approximately one in five detections of atrazine is above the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water. Currently there is no U.S. atrazine standard for protection of aquatic life. February and October detections of this herbicide are probably due to sugarcane cultivation. Nitrate levels have remained below the MCL for drinking water, but nitrate and phosphorus concentrations may pose a potential for eutrophication problems. The contribution of sugarcane production to the nutrient status of Louisiana's coastal water bodies is difficult to assess because there are other sources of nutrients in the area and native soil phosphorus levels are high. Cultural practices such as subsurface drains, open drainage ditches, and postharvest residue management have potential through enhancement of soil infiltration for decreasing sugarcane's contribution to water quality problems in southern and coastal Louisiana. A new field project is being installed at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Experiment Station's Sugarcane Research Station at St. Gabriel to assess the water quality benefits of these practices with respect to sugarcane cultivation.

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