Current research projects

Research Mission 1

Continuous improvement in farming and milling profitability

For information on past and completed projects, please visit the SRA elibrary or contact the SRA Research Funding Unit.

Optimising productivity, variety recommendations and mill operations through analysis of mill data

This project will objectively use mill data to design strategic adoption programs to optimise current farm management plans. Its activities will be to:

  • Automate the data transfer, analysis and reporting of mill data to aid in industry decision making.
  • Identify key drivers of profitability for both growers and millers in additional regions to the Herbert (pilot study) by using analyses of factors affecting mill productivity and cane and sugar quality.
  • Enable the new features such as automated individualised whole farm planning, variety performance by soil type and sub-district and analysis of variety performance across years for the Decision Support System, QCANESelect, developed in the pilot study to optimise variety recommendations in all regions as input data become available.
  • Promote the new features of QCANESelect to gain greater adoption in all regions.
  • Using methods developed in pilot study, refine the ratooning index based on productivity groupings to predict and rate ratooning performance of varieties to tailor variety recommendations.
  • Develop a decision support tool to predict varietal composition and long-term sugar and cane quality parameters to allow mills to plan and implement factory changes that might be required for processing the crop expected in the future.

Implementing and validating genomic selection in SRA breeding programs to accelerate improvements in yield, commercial cane sugar, and other key traits

This project aims to implement genomic selection in SRA's breeding program, to double the rate of genetic gain for TCH, CCS, by reducing the breeding cycle time, in order to produce more profitable varieties for growers. The objectives are to

  • Establish a reference population for genomic evaluations of a scale to enable accurate genomic evaluations
  • Develop/implement software in SRA's pipeline to produce genomic evaluations for breeding candidates
  • Determine the strategy with the largest cost benefit for implementing genomic selection in SRA's breeding program using computer simulation
  • Develop algorithms to integrate genomic selection with information genome wide association studies and QTL studies to achieve maximum genetic gain
  • Develop genomic prediction of clonal performance (with non-additive effects) to enable early identification of best varieties
  • Demonstrate effectiveness of genomic selection by validating with clones selected using genomic evaluation.

Investigations to mitigate the effects of sucrose degradation and acid formation in factory evaporators on sugar recovery and quality, corrosion and effluent loadings

This project will determine the effects of sucrose degradation and acid formation in factory evaporators on sugar recovery, corrosion and effluent loadings and develop strategies to mitigate these issues.

Genetic analysis and marker delivery for sugarcane breeding

This project seeks to address the integration of molecular markers into sugarcane breeding to help guide the selection of new varieties and increase the rate of genetic gain. New varieties are the major drivers of productivity in the Australian industry. The use of molecular markers in cultivar development would give breeders the ability to increase selection pressure for key traits by applying selection at stages of the breeding cycle when it is not possible/practical to use phenotyping.

Implementation of root system diagnostics to deliver a field-based measure for root health

Better knowledge of root health through delivery of a field measurement tool will contribute to increased productivity and sustainability by providing practical information to support adoption of improved farming practices.

The Soil Health program aims to increase adoption of best practice using a toolbox of positive change indicators to demonstrate and monitor progress.

Developing healthy root systems is now recognised in many crops as essential to closing the yield gap. Root health is known to respond to soil conditions and can therefore be a useful barometer for soil health.

Validating high-throughput phenomics technologies for sugarcane clonal selection

This project builds on recent SRA-funded research which has introduced a drone-based high-throughput phenotyping platform for SRA. The current project aims to further optimise this technology and provide an indirect trait-based optimal selection index for repeatable assessment of sugarcane clonal performance in early-stage selections. Improved efficiency in early stage selections will help contribute towards the goal of achieving the 2% annual genetic gain target set in the SRA Strategic Plan.


Harvester losses assessment by real-time Machine Vision Systems

This project will develop a novel proof-of concept Machine Vision System for real-time estimation of cane losses during harvesting. This will be based on direct imaging to detect billet particles and juice that falls onto the trash blanket. With such a system, the harvester operator can potentially adjust harvester operational parameters and amount of loss in response to real-time conditions, thereby minimising sugar losses prior to milling.

Strategies to minimise impacts of processing existing soft cane varieties, and industry cost/benefit analysis

In recent years a number of new varieties have come through the breeding program that are soft enough to cause problems when milling. This project will identify the best strategies to process these soft canes in the factory. Some soft cane varieties have such high sugar yield that there could be a high financial return to the industry if a cost-effective way to manage them in the factory can be found.


Smarter Irrigation for Profit - Phase 2

Australian sugar industry soil health benchmarking in the Central region of Qld - increasing profit and transforming soil health practices through cooperative industry research, extension and adoption

Australian sugarcane industry soil health benchmarking in the Wet Tropics region of QLD - increasing profit and transforming soil health practices through cooperative industry research, extension and adoption

This project is an industry partnership of the Wet Tropics cane growing region of Queensland. Over two years, ten Paired Sites will be established across three mill areas to determine the soil health, root health and business impact of transitioning to an Improved Farming System (IFS). Long-term IFS sites, of at least ten years, will be matched with near-by traditionally farmed sites. Physical, chemical and biological soil parameters will be measured, along with root development testing, to determine variation between the two sites and therefore the long-term impact of implementing IFS practices. This work will assist the industry to determine the best set of soil health indicators for this region.

Maximising cane recovery through development of a harvesting decision support tool

Through a range of research projects in recent years, it has been demonstrated that adjusting the way the industry operates its harvesters can put more valuable sugar into the supply chain – and not left in the paddock.

This practice change involves a negotiation between the harvesting contractor and the farmer to make sure both sides of the equation are receiving a benefit.

That process will be made much easier through this new tool that is being developed using data collected through years of trials across the sugar industry and is being supported by in-depth economic data being collected and analysed by economists at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Once complete, the tool will provide an online platform that helps growers and contractors look at the potential gains and costs and then examine the costs of harvesting.

The project is funded through SRA and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries over three years to develop the platform and conduct demonstration campaigns for validation.

E-network for rail-based cane transport systems

The development of a monitoring and communication system, operating across the sugar cane rolling stock and rail network, will seek to increase efficiency, improve safety, and reduce costs.

Improving pan stage performance by on-line monitoring of C seed grainings using the ITECA Crystobserver

Research Mission 2

Position the industry to stay ahead of climate, environmental and biosecurity threats.

For information on past and completed projects, please visit the SRA elibrary or contact the SRA Research Funding Unit.

Modern diagnostics for a safer Australian Sugar Industry

The major objectives of this project are:

• To modernise current diagnostics for pathogens
• To explore and prepare a NGS toolkit for new disease threats
• To update molecular and morphological diagnostics for exotic moth borer threats, conduct a rigorous species delimitation analyses, map their geographic distribution in relation to proximity to Australia and update Sugar Research Australia dossiers on exotic moth borers.

Moth Borers – how are we going to manage them when they arrive?

Developing an integrated device for on-farm detection of sugarcane diseases

This project aims to develop a novel on-farm diagnostic device comprising new nanotechnology and magnetism-induced microfluidics with naked eye observation and electrochemical detection. This device is expected to enable improved disease management strategies through the prediction of potential risks and rapid and effective actions to mitigate impending yield loss. The research project has three aims:

  • Development of a portable microfluidics device that integrates distinct functional modules for isolation, purification, separation, and multiplexed colourimetric (naked eye) and electrochemical detectionof leaf scald and ratoon stunting disease (RSD)
  • Validating and optimising the device for on-farm diagnosis and monitoring of leaf scald and RSD pathogens
  • Using the device for spatial and temporal disease surveillance and monitoring across Queensland for informed disease management.

This is a Linkage Project funded through the Australian Research Council, involving a collaboration between Griffith University and Sugar Research Australia.

Beyond Imidacloprid - Chemical and Biorational Alternatives for Managing Canegrubs

Canegrubs are the most economically significant pest of sugarcane, yet the industry is heavily reliant on one major control option for this pest. This project will focus on potential non-neonicotinoid alternatives to imidacloprid, particularly on using novel or conventional chemical insecticides. To overcome potential over-reliance on a single active ingredient, a secondary aim is to include preliminary screening to determine the efficacy of selected biorational compounds.

SRA acknowledges the funding contribution of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.

Environmental DNA Technologies and Predictive Modelling for Rapid Detection and Identification of Sugarcane Priority Pests and Diseases

This project builds on pest surveillance and in-field testing techniques to improve the ability of those undertaking Northern Australian sugar pest surveillance activities to identify pest incursion threats quickly and accurately.

SRA acknowledges the funding contribution of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.

Transformational crop protection – Innovative RNAi biopesticides for management of sugarcane root feeding pests

This project aims to deliver a proof-of-concept demonstration for the BioClay/BenPol platform targeting root feeding pests of sugarcane including cane grubs and soldier flies.

SRA acknowledges the funding contribution of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.

Research Mission 3

Capitalise on changing consumer preferences, and the growing bio and green economies to develop product diversification opportunities.

For information on past and completed projects, please visit the SRA elibrary or contact the SRA Research Funding Unit.

Biorefineries for Profit - Phase 2

The emerging global bioeconomy is creating new opportunities for agricultural producers while underpinning the viability of existing crop products and supply chains. This cross-sectoral project established under the Rural R&D For Profit Program will engage Australia’s leading researchers in this field to develop the technologies needed to convert Australian agricultural and forestry feedstocks into new value-added animal feeds, chemicals, and advanced fuels. The project will establish profitable bioproduct opportunities for Australian primary producers and other participants in the sugar, cotton, forestry, and animal feed industries, while creating opportunities for those same industries to reduce input costs, such as through lower cost animal feeds and fuels.

Sugar Industry Diversification Opportunities Investigation Support

This project will investigate the potential application of two sugarcane biorefinery opportunities (hydrogen production from bagasse and compostable bioplastic production from cane juice) and identify any investment barriers to their application.

SRA acknowledges the funding contribution of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.


Research Mission 4

Position the Australian sugarcane industry as leaders in profitability, environmental sustainability and resource-use efficiency.

For information on past and completed projects, please visit the SRA elibrary or contact the SRA Research Funding Unit.

SIX EASY STEPS - continuing perspectives in time and space

The project aims to establish an 'umbrella-type' project that has the following major objectives:

  • Establish a mechanism to update/revise the SIX EASY STEPS knowledge base and guidelines (specifically N) when sound scientifically-based information becomes available from various R&D sources. This will be done on a yearly basis at the project's review, planning and consultative group workshops.
  • Link to several other current and planned projects to develop/establish sets of district-specific guideline tables that indicate when and how to adjust the baseline SIX EASY STEPS N guidelines away from 'normal' circumstances. This could include amendments for particular soil properties (updated N mineralization indices, sodic soils, etc), interaction between climatic conditions/edaphic factors (wet versus dry seasons and soil types), harvest seasons/dates (older versus younger ratoons, late versus early harvest, etc ), choice of fertiliser formulations (traditional versus EEFs), etc.
  • Provide specific N guidelines and NUE data from continuing or new field trials associated with aspects of temporal/spatial management options. This will relate specifically to EEFs, position in the landscape, seasonal differences and in-field variability (as a continuation of 2045/045).
  • Update/modernise the SIX EASY STEPS technology transfer mechanisms.

Keeping chemicals in their place - in the field

This project will specifically examine whether off-site movement of chemicals can be managed using a range of tools and techniques including adjuvants, formulation, placement and application methodology.

Building a sugar industry economic model to quantify and prioritise global trade policy and market access initiatives for the Australian sugar industry

Complete Nutrient Management Planning for the Russell-Mulgrave and Lower Barron catchments

Russell-Mulgrave Complete Nutrient Management Planning for Cane Farming is a project being delivered by Sugar Research Australia in the Russell-Mulgrave and Lower Barron catchments. The project began in early 2020 and will run until the end of 2021.

Qualified agronomic specialists work with growers to provide farm specific, high quality whole of farm nutrient management planning, and associated farming system advice across 50 management units.

The Russell Mulgrave project is funded through the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program and the Australian Government Reef Trust in partnership with SRA.

Environmental risk assessment and life cycle assessment of raw sugar manufacturing

This project is occurring in two stages over two years:

Stage 1: Environmental risk assessment of the sugarcane value chain

Stage 2: Life cycle assessment of the raw sugar manufacturing (cradle to processor gate)

In stage one, the project will undertake a study to identify current and possible future risks to the Australian sugar industry of not undertaking a raw sugar environmental LCA. The review focuses on key risks, some of which include:

a. Market regulation and trade restrictions

b. Foregone price premiums or penalty for non-compliance

c. Government regulation, tariffs, and lack of government support

d. Failure to tell a broader sustainability narrative of the industry’s environmental performance

In stage two, the aim is to develop a detailed understanding of the environmental performance of Australian sugar industry’s products and business operations. The study will require a detailed quantification of the environmental impacts along the raw sugar value chain.

The LCA outputs are expected to help the industry better understand, benchmark, and improve its environmental contribution to human health, environment, ecosystem quality and resource use (including waste management).

The findings of the assessment will be used by SRA to consult with industry and inform efforts to minimise environmental impacts and exploit opportunities for improving resource use efficiency, support diversification, influence policy and improve social licence to operate.

SRA acknowledges the funding contribution of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.

A common approach to sector-level GHG accounting for Australian agriculture

Mackay Whitsunday Cane to Creek

This project is accelerating the adoption of improved nutrient and pesticide management strategies that contribute to the reduction of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and pesticides. The underlying objectives are to achieve water quality improvements by focusing on active buy-in and ownership of water quality issues by growers. The project is also increasing skills and knowledge relating to water quality, creating active engagement to assess farm practices and impacts on water quality, and facilitating grower-led demonstrations of practices that promote pollutant reductions. The Cane to Creek Mackay Whitsunday project is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation with support from Sugar Research Australia, Mackay Area Productivity Services and Plane Creek Productivity Services.

On ground testing and modelling of the effectiveness of enhanced efficiency Fertilisers in the Wet Tropics catchments of the Great Barrier Reef

This project is building on four years of work conducted as part of EEF60, which concludes in June 2021. The new project sees SRA continuing with 17 on-farm trial sites with enhanced efficiency fertilisers  in Far North Queensland and is partnering with CSIRO and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) on key research activities.

In addition to the 17 controlled and replicated trials, the project will fine-tune a decision support tool for growers on selecting EEFs, which is building on other recent work delivered by CSIRO and the Herbert Cane Productivity Services Limited (HCPSL).

The new project will also involve CSIRO researchers, led by Tony Webster, who will use the APSIM farming systems model to develop information on the expected benefits of EEFs to inform when and where EEFs can be used in place of urea to reduce nitrogen losses.

The new work is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF), with support from SRA, CSIRO, CANEGROWERS and productivity services companies.

Reducing herbicide usage on sugarcane farms in reef catchment areas with precise robotic weed control

The project will rely on the pioneering “deep learning” technology being developed by JCU and AutoWeed to detect and spray priority sugarcane weeds. In the first year of the project, hundreds of thousands of images of sugarcane farmers’ crops will be collected, labelled by a human expert, and fed into deep learning models to train the weed and crop detection system. Every time the spraying system is used it will collect more data, so the deep learning models can further improve their performance over time.

The second year will focus on developing and trialling the herbicide delivery component of the project. The two-year project, funded by a $400,000 grant through the partnership between the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, is a collaboration between JCU, AutoWeed, and Sugar Research Australia.

Increasing industry productivity and profitability through transformational, whole of systems sugarcane approaches that deliver water quality benefits

This project aims to transition growers to scalable, sustainable and technologically advanced practices in irrigation management using a whole-of-systems approach that includes water quality monitoring. Improved irrigation water use efficiency will be delivered to industry and extend to whole-of-farm solutions, to achieve improvements in water quality. The project aims to maximise industry profitability through smarter irrigation practices. The project will also implement data, software and technological ecosystems to align the Burdekin sugarcane farming system with the digital agricultural movement, with performance-based incentives used to encourage growers to trial new technologies at a small scale on their farms.

The project is funded via GRBF, administered by North Queensland Dry Tropics, led by Sugar Research Australia and delivered by Sugar Research Australia, Agritech Solutions, Burdekin Productivity Services (BPS) and Farmacist team members.

Research Mission 5

Support the development of an adaptable, professional, commercial and entrepreneurial industry and research community.

For information on past and completed projects, please visit the SRA elibrary or contact the SRA Research Funding Unit.

Re-evaluating the biology of the sugarcane root system

Microwave sensors for sugarcane sugar analysis

New approaches to quantifying nitrogen fluxes in enhanced efficiency fertilisers in Australian sugarcane soils

Characterising nitrogen use efficiency in sugarcane

Australian sugar industry training - development of training factory modules - Phase 2

This project will extend the number of on-line training courses available for operator training in Australian sugar factories. The new courses, which will be mapped to the national competencies, will include juice clarification (covering primary and secondary heating, liming, flocculation, flashing and clarification), mud filtration, evaporation, evaporator cleaning and crystallisation.

PhD Scholarship - Genetic solutions for determining fibre quality traits in sugarcane

Enhancing the resilience of sugarcane with photoactive carbon nanodots

Survey of Australian sugar cane farm business performance 2020-21 and 2021-22

SRA acknowledges the funding contribution of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.

Engineering bacterial enzyme secretion for cellulose utilisation

Microbial fermentations to produce biochemicals from waste biomass are considered to be a viable option to diversify and add value to the sugar industry. However, utilising lignocellulosic biomass is economically unviable, partly due to the cost of enzymatic pre-treatments to release fermentable sugars. This project proposes to develop microbial technology to reduce the cost of extracting fermentable sugars from lignocellulosic biomass. If successful it would then be possible to create a bacterium that can directly extract sugars from lignocellulosic biomass and convert them into biochemicals.

This is a PhD project being conducted by Madeline Smith and supervised by Dr James Behrendorff at the Queensland University of Technology.

Early detection of sugarcane diseases via hyperspectral imaging and deep learning

Early detection of sugarcane disease is essential in plant protection. The development of hyperspectral imaging technology and artificial intelligence brings new opportunities to plant protection and plant pathology research. This project aims to develop a prototype hyperspectral imaging system for early detection of sugarcane diseases and quantitative measurement to identify disease resistance. Building on previous research and working in collaboration with SRA scientists based at the Woodford research station, this project is expected to lead to the development of an automatic and fast diagnosis tool for large scale monitoring with relative low cost comparing to existing disease detection and quantification tools.

This is a one-year Research Award to explore an innovative idea.

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