Partnership to develop sugarcane industry roadmap

Charting a prosperous future for the industry and regional communities

Sugarcane industry peak bodies and the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) are partnering to develop the first whole-of-industry shared vision and roadmap to 2040.

The Sugarcane Industry Roadmap will adopt a best-for-industry view to identify significant opportunities to drive sustainability, growth and prosperity of the industry and regional communities into the future.

CRCNA Chief Executive Officer Anne Stünzner said the roadmap will identify the future forces likely to impact the industry, establish agreed priorities and provide insight into the skills, resources, innovation and infrastructure needed for future success.

“For more than 100 years, the sugarcane industry has been a major economic and social contributor to regional communities across Queensland and northern New South Wales and has demonstrated a thirst for innovation and new technology,” Ms Stünzner said.

She said industry organisations have recognised the need to complement and enhance the traditional raw sugar production model to improve productivity and diversify revenue sources.

“While the industry faces economic, environmental and social challenges, there is significant opportunity to expand to become a multi-product, ‘sugar plus’ industry with potential for alternate markets such as biofuels and bioplastics,” Ms Stünzner said.

The roadmap initiative has the joint backing of five sugarcane industry organisations – Sugar Research Australia, CANEGROWERS, the Australian Sugar Milling Council, AgForce and the Australian Cane Farmers Association – with funding also provided by the CRCNA and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Sugar Research Australia Chief Executive Officer Roslyn Baker said the project will involve extensive engagement across the sugarcane industry value chain to co-develop a plan for the future.

“The roadmap will address both the immediate enhancements and improvements that can be made for a stronger industry, as well as longer-term opportunities to enter new markets, to diversify into new crops and products, and alternative uses for core industry assets,” Ms Baker said.

She said the roadmap will support the industry to bring to life a vision relevant to all sugarcane regions while cultivating greater agility to embrace local opportunities.

“This initiative is about generational change and putting industry in the driver’s seat to build an exciting and prosperous future,” Ms Baker said.

Stakeholder engagement sessions are underway. The roadmap is due to be finalised in early 2022.

Webinar: Enhanced-efficiency nitrogen fertilisers: Potential benefits and selection of products for sugarcane

Please join us as we hear from Dr Weijin Wang as he presents research findings of the project, Smart Blending of Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers (EEFs) to maximise sugarcane profitability.

To mitigate N loss risks from the conventional urea, many improved N fertiliser formulations known as enhanced-efficiency fertilisers (EEFs) have been developed and tested in various farming systems in the world. Polymer-coated urea (PCU) or controlled-release fertiliser (CRF) can extend N supply for crops after application into soil by controlling N release through an insoluble but permeable coating material, thereby better matching fertiliser N supply with plant N uptake. Coating or impregnating urea with a nitrification inhibitor can suppress the microbial production of nitrate in soil and thus reduce nitrate loss. While EEFs can potentially improve fertiliser N use efficiency by crops and reduce N losses into the environment, they do not always lead to higher yield. Such uncertainty in combination with their higher costs can cause confusion to growers as to whether EEFs should be used or not.

Sponsored by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, Sugar Research Australia, Queensland Government and industry partners, field trials were conducted at Bundaberg, Mackay, Ingham, Tully and Innisfail over three cropping seasons from 2016 to 2019.

In this webinar, the project leader Dr Weijin Wang from the Department of Environment and Science will share findings from these trials, his views on EEFs in terms of their agronomic, economic and environmental benefits, and selection of products for cane farming.

Weijin obtained his PhD from the University of Melbourne 20 years ago and since then has been serving in Queensland Government as a soil biochemist, currently in the Department of Environment and Science (DES). With more than 100 peer reviewed publications, he also holds adjunct academic positions in Griffith University and UQ. He has led several projects in the last 20 years on soil carbon and nitrogen cycling and management, including carbon sequestration and nitrous oxide emissions mitigation. In particular, he has been collaborating with various research, development and extension organisations in investigating practicable farm management strategies to increase fertiliser nitrogen use efficiency and minimise nitrogen losses into the environment. These include a recently completed project in the More Profit from Nitrogen program, which looked into the potential environmental and agronomic benefits of enhanced-efficiency nitrogen fertilisers in Queensland sugarcane farming systems.  In today’s webinar, Weijin will report on the findings from this project as well as some outputs from previous projects.

This project was supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, Sugar Research Australia, Queensland Government, with financial contribution from ICL Specialty Fertilisers, Incitec Pivot Ltd., Herbert Cane Productivity Services Ltd. (HCPSL) and Farmacist Pty Ltd.

Click here to join on the day.

New yield benchmark

Sugarcane growers in the Burdekin have a novel new variety to consider for their future farming operations.

The Burdekin Regional Variety Committee (RVC) met earlier this year to consider the commercial merit of the most advanced experimental clones in the Sugar Research Australia (SRA) breeding program and approved the release of SRA32.

Mr Rob Milla, Chair of the RVC and Manager of Burdekin Productivity Services (BPS), explained that the committee includes technical expertise across local production, agronomy, pathology, plant breeding and milling.

“The RVC is recognised under the Queensland Biosecurity Act with responsibility for minimum disease standards and is tasked with making release decisions on new varieties that improve whole-of-industry profitability,” said Mr Milla.

Dr Xianming Wei is SRA’s Variety Development Manager responsible for Burdekin plant breeding, which is expanding this year with 33,000 potential new varieties going into field trials at the SRA Brandon research station.

These potential new varieties then progress to Final Assessment Trials (FATs) conducted under commercial agronomic management conditions on farms across the Burdekin. A range of specialist tests are also completed to determine the disease resistance profile, sugar quality, and fibre quality of advanced clones.

SRA32 has completed testing through to second ratoon in seven Burdekin FATs between 2015 to 2020.

SRA32 has shown exceptional productivity with an advantage of 16 TCH when compared to standard, established varieties in these trials.

“SRA32 has also been very consistent, with cane yield above the average of the standards in 19 of the 20 harvests and 13 of these were statistically significant,” Dr Wei said.

“The new variety does have lower CCS than established varieties, averaging 0.8 units below the standards.

“However, the high yield potential of SRA32 means that the variety offers an advantage in terms of sugar per hectare. The difference in CCS varies with harvest date and crop age so there are opportunities to maximise CCS from SRA32 through management practices.”

SRA Executive Manager for Variety Development, Dr Jason Eglinton, said SRA32 is resistant to leaf scald, mosaic and Pachymetra.

“SRA32 is rated intermediate in reaction to smut, and in Burdekin observation trials infection levels have been higher than Q208 and KQ228 but significantly lower than SRA8. Planting into high smut risk situations should be avoided,” Dr Eglinton said.

Clean seed is a foundation for productivity, but it does take time to generate high volumes for new varieties, explained Rob Milla

“Following standard protocols for propagation through mother plots to distribution plots would see SRA32 become available to growers for billet planting in the 2024 season. However, thanks to SRA and BPS working together to use tissue culture to rapidly produce enough SRA32 plantlets to establish a one-hectare mother plot this year, growers will have clean seed of SRA32 available in 2023, one year ahead of the normal schedule,” Mr Milla said.

Growers interested in managing their own on-farm propagations can order tissue culture plants for delivery for spring planting in 2022, with orders to BPS closing at the end of October.

Webinar – Adoption of practices to mitigate harvest losses

Final results and maximising sugarcane recovery through development of harvesting decision support tool.

In this webinar Phil Patane (SRA) presented the final outcomes of the project ‘Adoption of practices to mitigate harvest losses’ and and Brendon Nothard (DAF) explained the next stage of the project titled ‘Maximising sugarcane recovery: development of harvesting decision support tool’.

This very important next stage aims to deliver a grower-friendly decision-support tool that applies the latest research findings, incorporates economic evidence, and encourages adoption of HBP.

Phil Patane is the Agricultural machinery specialist for Sugar Research Australia. Phil graduated with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree at the University of Queensland and has been specialising in minimising harvesting losses since 2013.

Brendon Northard is a Senior Agricultural Economist for DAF in Mackay. His involvement in the Australian Sugar Industry includes investigations into the economic impact of cane harvesting practices and new farming systems.

This project was funded by SRA and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture through the Rural R&D for Profit Program. SRA also acknowledges the funding contribution from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.

Regenerative Cane Farming Forum bus tour recap

In February 2021, Sugar Research Australia and Burdekin Productivity Services took a group of growers up to the Regenerative Cane Farming Forum in Cairns. The clip provides a short recap of the trip.

Thanks to Burdekin Productivity Services and Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for their support of this event.

iMapPESTS program to help protect sugar cane industry

Moth borers remain one of the highest priority pests for Australian sugar cane production.

For this reason, Australian researchers have taken a proactive approach to clarifying control measures and gathering information about the pest.

While not established in Australia, there are 36 major moth pest species worldwide with seven regarded as high risk to Australia.

The nation’s geographic proximity to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and South East Asia, where the moths live, mean Australia remains a potential migration point.

Speaking on the first day of the CaseIH Step Up conference in Bundaberg on Tuesday, Sugar Research Australia (SRA) molecular plant pathologist, Dr Nicole Thompson, said significant work had been done to forearm against the threat.

Some of this work included updating species and specimen information in databases and collections; preparing new dossiers based on this research; developing new diagnostic protocols; and updating the geographic distribution of the moth borers.

The pest was just one major concern mentioned by Dr Thompson who also spoke on iMapPESTS, a nationwide research and development collaborative initiative between Australia’s major plant industries with a goal of developing a way to rapidly monitor and report the presence of airborne pests and diseases for multiple agricultural sectors, including viticulture, grains, cotton, sugar, horticulture and forestry.

The project is about advanced surveillance technologies such as automated trapping and sampling for detecting and monitoring a wide range of endemic and exotic pests.

The project will also produce several flexible surveillance hubs with trapping technologies that can be mobilised in response to industry needs such as in response to incursions.TECH: The Sentinel is a custom-designed surveillance trailer unit designed to offer optimal sampling of airborne fungal spores and insects.

 TECH: The Sentinel is a custom-designed surveillance trailer unit designed to offer optimal sampling of airborne fungal spores and insects.

One of the pieces of equipment is the Sentinel.

The Sentinel is a custom-designed surveillance trailer unit designed to offer optimal sampling of airborne fungal spores and insects.

The Sentinel has four different air samplers: two spore samplers which are high-volume, designed to collect airborne spores; a 2m insect suction trap to monitor localised insect dynamics; and 6m insect suction trap, for monitoring of long-distance migratory insect flights.

Each air sampler is automated and collects samples into small vials for fungal spores or larger vials or larger pots for insects.

These are barcoded and read by a scanner onboard and in the labs for complete traceability.

Dr Thompson said sugarcane had many established pests and diseases such as mosaic, Fiji leaf gall, leaf scald, smut, RSD and others.

It’s hoped the iMapPESTS project will assist multiple plant industries in managing these threats.