Cane Quality Management


In the South African sugarcane industry, recoverable value percent cane (RV%) is used for cane payment purposes and determined in cane consignments delivered to the mill. Various factors can impact cane quality, including climate, variety choice, crop nutrition, pest and diseases, flowering, lodging, drying-off, chemical ripeners, harvest practices (e.g., topping height and green cane harvesting), harvest scheduling and post-harvest cane deterioration.
Information and recommendations relating to cane quality management can be found in the publications and other resources listed below.

Dr Riekert van Heerden

Programme Manager: Crop Performance & Management


Programme Manager: Crop Performance & Management

Tel: 031 508 7400 (Switchboard)
Tel: 031 508 7439 (Direct)

Role & Overall Purpose

As programme manager, I am responsible for the coordination and management of research within the Crop Performance and Management Research Programme at SASRI. This role involves development of the annual programme of work through encouraging focus, innovation and collaboration in research. As senior scientist, my role is to initiate and conduct research leading to best management practices for sugarcane cultivation in South Africa.

A key outcome of my research is to promote the responsible use of chemical ripeners in the sugar industry. Chemical ripeners enhance the sucrose content of sugarcane during certain parts of the milling season. My research conducted under statistically-designed experimental conditions, and on a much larger commercial scale in participation with sugarcane farmers, has shown that increases in sucrose yields up to 3 tons per hectare can be achieved with chemical ripeners. Success stories, and advice on the use of ripeners, are often shared with farmers at knowledge exchange events and in the form of popular articles, which drives the ongoing adoption of this important crop management practice.

My contribution to farmer sustainability in the South African sugarcane industry was acknowledged when I received the Agriculturist of the Year (KwaZulu-Natal) Award from Agricultural Writers SA in 2011. I am currently also a National Research Foundation (NRF)-rated scientist.

  • Physiological and biochemical basis of stress tolerance in plants.
  • Sugarcane quality management, with emphasis on the responsible use of chemical ripeners.
  • Participatory on-farm research and knowledge exchange to promote adoption of best management practices by sugarcane farmers.
Research Interests
  • The use of chemical ripeners for sugarcane quality management focusing on cultivar responses and climatic influences on chemical efficacy.
  • Innovations facilitating on-farm sugarcane quality management decisions to enable the responsible and informed use of chemical ripeners.
  • Participatory on-farm research and knowledge exchange with sugarcane farmers.
Key Outcomes
  • Ensuring the responsible use of chemical ripeners in the South African sugar industry.
  • Conversion of peer-reviewed research findings to best management practices for profitable and sustainable sugarcane production in South Africa.
Key Publications

van Heerden PDR (2019). Response of selected South African coastal sugarcane varieties to chemical ripeners: Active ingredient effectiveness and associated impacts on grower and miller sustainability. International Sugar Journal 121: 902 – 904.

Van Antwerpen R, van Heerden PDR, Tweddle P, Cheong RN & Riviere V (2018). Advances in harvesting and transport of sugarcane. In: Achieving sustainable cultivation of sugarcane Volume 1: Cultivation techniques, quality and sustainability, Rott P (Ed.), pp. 203 – 234, Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing Limited, Cambridge, UK, ISBN: 978-1-78676-144-6.

van Heerden PDR, Adendorff MW, Lagerwall G, Botha P, Cronjé CPR, van der Merwe J, Nel N, Smith P, Höll E, Hyslop G, Smith V, Harris A., Harris W, Mhlongo JB, Harris DM & Dheopursad J (2015). Grower – Extensionist – Researcher partnerships: On-farm demonstration trials to facilitate adoption of chemical ripening. International Sugar Journal 117: 500-506.

van Heerden PDR, Mbatha TP & Ngxaliwe S (2015). Chemical ripening of sugarcane with trinexapac-ethyl (Moddus®) – Mode of action and comparative efficacy. Field Crops Research 181: 69-75.

van Heerden PDR, Singels A, Paraskevopoulos A & Rossler R (2015). Negative effects of lodging on irrigated sugarcane productivity – an experimental and crop modelling assessment. Field Crops Research 180: 135-142.

van Heerden PDR (2014). Differential acclimation capacity to frost in sugarcane varieties grown under field conditions. Plant Growth Regulation 72: 181 – 187.

van Heerden PDR (2014). Evaluation of Trinexapac-ethyl (Moddus®) as a new chemical ripener for the South African sugarcane industry. Sugar Tech 16(3): 295-299.

van Heerden PDR, Eggleston G & Donaldson RA (2014). Ripening and Post-harvest deterioration. In: Sugarcane Physiology, Biochemistry, and Functional Biology, Botha FC and Moore PH (Eds.), pp. 55 – 84, Wiley-Blackwell, USA, ISBN: 978-0-8138-2121-4.

Lopes MS, Araus JL, van Heerden PDR & Foyer CH (2011). Enhancing drought tolerance in C4 crops. Journal of Experimental Botany 62: 3135-3153.

van Heerden PDR, Donaldson RA, Watt DA & Singels A (2010). Biomass accumulation in sugarcane – unravelling the factors underpinning reduced growth phenomena. Journal of Experimental Botany 61, 2877-2887.

International Consultancy & Training

Over seven years of international consultancy work and training (related to sugarcane quality management) for sugar industries in Chad, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Guatemala.

  • M.Sc. – Plant Physiology (Stellenbosch University).
  • Ph.D. – Plant Physiology (North-West University – Potchefstroom campus).


Relative Payment

English | isiZulu

Cane Quality
English | isiZulu

Ripener spray-to-harvest interval guide

Decision Support Systems

PurEst® is a smartphone application that estimates whole-stalk juice purity from Brix% readings taken with a hand-held refractometer. PurEst® provides practical cane quality management recommendations based on the known juice purity efficacy thresholds of the various ripener chemicals. PurEst® can also assist with harvesting decisions by estimating RV% and stalk moisture, which enables growers to prioritise fields according to harvest readiness.

For more information, see our information sheet: 4.7 Determining crop maturity for purposes of cane quality management.

To access PurEst®, download the application from the Google Play Store or the i-Store.


Research in cane quality management focuses on the development of knowledge, technologies and resources to enable and demonstrate effective sugarcane cane quality management practices in the industry. See CROP PERFORMANCE AND MANAGEMENT for more information.

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