How Cane Sugar is Made - Harvesting
Cane grows very tall in good growing regions - certainly up to 3 metres/10 feet tall - and still has some green leaves when ripe although most leaves have dried off by then. Where possible the cane is fired before harvesting to remove the dead leaf material and some of the waxy coating. The fire burns at quite high temperatures but is over very quickly so that the cane and its sugar content are not harmed.
In some areas burning is not permitted because of the nuisance value to local communities of the smoke and carbon specs that are released. However there is no environmental impact, the CO2 released being a very small proportion of the CO2 fixed with photosynthesis during growth and the improved sugar extraction meaning that less cane needs to be grown on fewer acres to satisfy the world's sugar demand.
Harvesting is done either by hand or by machine. Hand cut cane -- cane cutting is a hard and dirty job but can employ lots of people in areas where jobs are scarce -- is cut at about ground level, the top green leaves are cropped off and then the stalk is bundled whole. Once a complete bundle has been assembled it is removed from the field with a light cart and may then be transferred to a larger vehicle for transport to the mill.
Most machine-cut cane is chopped into short lengths but is otherwise handled in a similar way as hand cut cane. Machines can only be used where land conditions are suitable and the topography is relatively flat. In addition the capital cost of machines and the loss of jobs caused makes this solution unsuitable for many sugar estates.