Biosecurity is a major concern in any agricultural industry and this year Sugar Research Australia is furthering its research into major threats posed to cane.
The focus is primarily on two potential threats in particular, which have not yet reached Australia but have decimated Indonesian cane crops.
Those threats are moth borers and Sugar Cane Streak Mosaic Virus, and principal researcher Rob Magarey is one of the many people trying to work out how the diseases are transmitted.
Very little is known about both diseases, how they spread or how they would cross the border and Mr Magarey has been working with Indonesian researchers to try and find the answers.
Without knowing how the diseases spread, he said it would be difficult to put in place the appropriate biosecurity measures to ensure there was not an outbreak in Australian sugar cane crops.
Sugar Cane Streak Mosaic Virus (SCSMV) is one of the biggest mysteries the researchers will try to solve.
“Because it has [only] recently been discovered in Indonesia, we don’t really know yet how it is transmitted and that is really important,” Mr Magarey said.
“If it came into our industry we would obviously want to stop the transmission straight away.
“There are some suggestions there might be an insect vector, which is an insect that actually transfers the virus or it could even be transmitted with cane knives and machinery.”
What they do know is that SCSMV has a significant impact on yields.
“It does not actually kill the cane, it just reduces the yield between 10 and 20 per cent, but because it affects almost all crops, then the overall yield loss is still very high,” Mr Magarey said.
This year Indonesian researchers have begun yield loss studies to work out the extent of the financial losses caused by SCSMV.
Moth borers less of a mystery
Mr Magarey said there was more known about the threats posed by moth borers.
There are three different species of the pest, but essentially it destroys the inside of sugar cane stalks.
“The larvae of the moths actually tunnel into the stalks and chew the inside of the stalks up, and I think many Australian cane growers would be appalled if they sliced open some stalks of cane and saw what we see in Indonesia,” Mr Magarey said.
Mr Magarey has also been a part of a project to find ways around the management of the pest.
“We have been assisting the Indonesians to be able to manage those moth borers better and reduce the yield impacts,” he said.
“From our side of things we are understanding how to do that and so that if it ever came in we would have a better idea of management.”
Mr Magarey said the research project would wrap up in 2018.
Source – ABC