Sugarcane cultivation requires a tropical or subtropical climate, with a minimum of 600 mm (24 in) of annual moisture. It is one of the most efficient photosynthesizers in the plant kingdom, able to convert up to 2 percent of incident solar energy into biomass. In prime growing regions, sugarcane can produce 20 kg for each square meter exposed to the sun.
Sugarcane is propagated from cuttings, rather than from seeds; although certain types still produce seeds, modern methods of stem cuttings have become the most common method of reproduction. Each cutting must contain at least one bud, and the cuttings are usually planted by hand. Once planted, a stand of cane can be harvested several times; after each harvest, the cane sends up new stalks, called ratoons. Usually, each successive harvest gives a smaller yield, and eventually the declining yields justify replanting. Depending on agricultural practice, two to ten harvests may be possible between plantings. Sugarcane is harvested mostly by hand; increasingly the industry realizes the need to mechanize sugarcane harvesting. However, as of now, hand harvesting accounts for more than half of the world's production, and is especially dominant in the developing world. Cane Knives or Machetes if used with a skilled harvester can cut 500 kg of sugarcane in an hour. With mechanical harvesting, a sugarcane combine (or chopper harvester), a harvesting machine originally developed in Australia, is used. The machine cuts the cane at the base of the stalk, separates the cane from its leaves, and deposits the cane into a cart while blowing the cut leaves back onto the field. Such machines can harvest 30 tonnes of cane each hour.