Varieties of Sugar Cane

Date: 1927
Owner: Journal of Agriculture of Porto Rico
Source Type: Images


Since the late eighteenth century, new breeds of sugarcane have been tested in the Caribbean in an effort to improve crop yields and discover strains that are better able to resist various blights and insects.  This scientific chart shows several of the new hybrid breeds of sugarcane that were introduced to Puerto Rico and several other cane-growing countries in the wake of the mosaic disease in the early 1920s. These strains, developed and exchanged throughout the world, were part of the varietal revolution, a period when planters began to incorporate modern biology and botany into their agriculture in an unprecedented manner. Early twentieth century planters tended to grow a single variety of a given crop, the so called noble varieties, yet this lack of diversity left the crops more vulnerable to depletion by disease and insects while also damaging the quality of the soil. Scientifically produced hybrid plants that were resistant to disease (especially the mosaic disease discussed in the Agriculture and Science topic) and also had high sucrose content became the ideal in the cane industry. In this chart, the stems labeled with "P.O.J." were hybrids made at Proef-Station Oost-Java, an experimental farm in the Pacific that sent many varieties to the Americas.

With this emphasis on biology, the cane industry became distinctly modern and the impact on natural environments was profound. New varieties of hybrids often led to new types of disease. These, in turn, prompted the importation of newer hybrids--a vicious circle that took its toll on the soil as well as the sugar industry. It became standard for Puerto Rican sugar mills to employ chemists and botanists, and planters had to think well beyond the traditional concerns of rain, weeds, and bugs. Puerto Rico's sugarcane industry became an ideal to which various Latin American countries engaged in monocrop agriculture aspired. Puerto Rico, though, had the advantage of U.S. funding and expertise, and few Latin American countries were able to make the shift from traditional to modern agriculture so effectively.


McCook, Stuart George. States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

CITATION: Journal of Agriculture of Porto Rico, 1927