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The Cane Sugar Industry CANE sugar or sucrose, C12H22011, occurs widely distributed in the vegetable kingdom. It is found in the fruits and juices of many plants, usually mixed with more or less of the simpler sugars, glucose (dextrose), and fructose (levulose). The separation of the sucrose is commercially profitable only in the case of a plant whose juice is relatively rich in this sugar and contains but small proportions of other substances. Only two plants, the sugar cane and the sugar beet, play an important part in the world's supply of sugar. The manufacture of sugar from the juices of the maple tree and of the palm tree are relatively small industries whose products enter but little into the world's sugar trade. We shall therefore confine our study of the technology of the industry to the manufacture of sugar from the cane or the beet. The accounts which follow are very largely based upon lectures delivered at Columbia University by Dr. C. A. Browne and Dr. W. D. Horne.
Production of raw sugar from sugar cane. The sugar cane, which is the oldest and best known sugar-producing plant, grows only in tropical and semitropical countries; it resembles in many ways the Indian corn, producing a jointed stalk varying from 6 to 12 feet or even more in length. The native home of the cane is India, and it is mentioned frequently in the old sacred books of the Hindoos and in ancient Chinese writings centuries 1 Browne, School of Mines Quarterly, April, 1911, and January, 1913.
before Christ. The Greek soldiers of Alexander the Great saw the sugar cane growing in India at the time of his conquest, and brought back stories of the wonderful reed which yielded a juice sweeter than honey. The Persians and Arabs carried the cultivation of the sugar cane westward, and we find that sugar was both grown and refined in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates in the tenth century A.D. The Crusaders found sugar cane and sugar factories in Syria and Palestine, and brought back samples of the product upon their return from the East. The Saracens introduced the cultivation of sugar cane into Sicily and the Moors into Spain; the Spaniards in their turn carried the sugar cane with them to the New World during their voyages of discovery and colonization ; and so the sugar cane was carried from its original home in India throughout the entire tropical and semitropical world.
At present the countries which lead in the production of sugar from cane are British India, Cuba, Java, and the United States, including Porto Rico, Hawaii and the Philippine Islands.
The cane is propagated by planting in plowed furrows the tops of the canes of the preceding crop. When the sprouts of young cane appear above ground, the fields are cultivated until the growth of the cane is well started or until the rainy season begins, and then left to grow for varying lengths of time depending upon the climatic conditions and custom of the locality. In Louisiana the whole period of growth is considerably less than a year; in Hawaii the cane is often allowed to grow for practically two years.
The sugar cane, when the crop is ready, is harvested by cutting off the stalk as close to the ground as possible, trimming off the green tops, and stripping off the leaves (Figs. 34 and 35). These and the other agricultural operations of planting, fertilizing, and cultivating require a large amount of labor, the expense for which makes up about three fourths of the cost of the raw sugar, the remaining one fourth being due to the expense of manufacture.