Sugarcane is composed of 50–55 percent water, 40–46 percent carbohydrates (chiefly sucrose), 3–6 percent cellulose, 1.5-3 percent hemicelluloses, and 0.5-1.5% pectin, with ash content that may be in the range of 2 to 10 percent, depending on the type of soil in which the plant is grown. The carbohydrate components consist chiefly of sucrose, glucose, and fructose in almost equal parts; only in varieties grown for the production of ethanol are other sugars found to any extent. Sugar profile varies between different sugarcane cultivars (sugarcane types). For example, the typical table sugar (sucrose) content of sugarcane juice is 70 percent.
Sugarcane consumes more water than any other crop, requiring irrigation systems that are often several decades old and deteriorating rapidly. The straw remaining after the juice has been extracted can be burnt to run steam-driven cane-grinding mills. Crop residues, such as those produced at the time of harvesting, can also be used as fodder for livestock.
Sugarcane is a tropical, perennial grass that forms lateral shoots at the base to produce multiple stems. The stems grow into cane stalk, which when mature constitutes most of the stem. In commercial plantation sugarcane crops, tillering is prevented with growth regulators such as dichlobenil and isocarboxazid.
Sugarcane cultivation is labor-intensive and often leads to unpleasant conditions for workers. Consequences include chronic injuries or death from slipping on cane leaves or being crushed under the weight of lances bearing freshly cut stems, respiratory diseases due to poor air circulation and lack of protective equipment in cane-processing factories, skin diseases due to exposure to the elements while working in wet cane fields, and on some sugar plantations, child labor is still used.
Production of sugarcane is the basis of the economies in many tropical regions where this perennial crop is grown, which includes much of Latin America, southern and south-eastern Asia, and Africa. According to FAOSTAT, Brazil was the top producer of sugar cane for 2015 with 531 million metric tons followed by India (350), China (303), Thailand (226), Pakistan (174), and the United States of America (150). According to FAOSTAT, approximately 80% of the world's sugar is produced from sugar cane in tropical and subtropical climates. A total of over 120 countries produce sugar.