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.

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

Summary

Improvement in yields in sugarcane has been slow, particularly in the last decade, despite the fact that yield is one of the major drivers of profitability (with a 1% improvement in yield being worth $12.5 M per annum to the Australian sugarcane industry).

The low rates of yield improvement reflect the fact that traits such as yield and sugar content (CCS) are polygenic, which means that they are controlled by the combined effects of hundreds of genes. Conventional marker-assisted selection (such as that being developed in project 2018/005) works relatively poorly for polygenic traits, because any individual marker will only account for a small proportion of the variability for that trait.

This project is exploring a relatively new technology called genomic selection (GS), which is being widely applied to many genetically simpler species to accelerate genetic gains. GS differs from conventional marker-assisted selection because it uses advanced computing algorithms to simultaneously assess thousands of markers spread across the entire genome, and it therefore represents a much more powerful approach for polygenic traits.

In this project, GS is being applied for the first time in sugarcane, with a focus on improving polygenic traits such as yield and sugar content. A cost benefit analysis using computer simulation will determine the most profitable strategy for implementing genomic selection in the SRA breeding program. The project will conclude with a validation trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of genomic selection in SRA’s breeding program.

Objectives

  • 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.

Expected outputs

  • A well-designed reference population for implementing genomic selection in SRA's breeding program
  • Identification of strategy for integrating genomic selection into the breeding program with largest cost benefit
  • A breeding strategy for integrating genomic selection with QTL studies (for example for disease resistance) to achieve maximum genetic gain
  • Genomic prediction algorithms that can incorporate known QTL to achieve maximum accuracy of the genomic estimated breeding values
  • Software to implement genomic selection in the routine SRA genetic evaluations for sugarcane developed and tested
  • Software and strategies for genomic prediction of clonal performance (using dominance and epistasis) to enable early identification of the best varieties
  • Extensive training of SRA staff in running genomic evaluation software, and training of breeders in use of genomic evaluations
  • Demonstration of the effectiveness of genomic selection in a validation trial with clones selected on basis of their genomic evaluation

Expected outcomes

  • An increase in genetic gain of 1.5% per year for TCH and CCS, leading to higher performing varieties being released from the SRA breeding program.
  • Improved varieties will lead to improved productivity and profitability for both growers and millers.

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for this research activity.

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

Summary

To remain financially viable Australian sugar milling groups must diversify to cogeneration or other products. Generally, diversification requires that sugar factories increase energy efficiency and reduce steam consumption to generate surplus bagasse, for uses other than sugar manufacture. For sugar factories achieve this, higher temperatures of process steam are required, larger juice evaporation areas for heat transfer are installed and greater quantities of vapour are withdrawn from late in the evaporator set for heating duties.

In the case of the Australian sugar factories, which exclusively use Robert evaporators, significant sucrose degradation of up to $1M loss in revenue occurs for a typical steam-efficient factory.

Also, the formation of acidic condensates, from the degradation process, results in severe corrosion of pipework, valves, and tube plates. Replacement of these parts occurs every year or so for some mills. Furthermore, the transfer of volatile products, derived from juice degradation, to the cooling water system increases the effluent organic loading and the chemical dosing demand.

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.

Objectives

  • Characterise the components in vapour and vent streams of evaporator installations that utilise high temperature steam and conventional lower temperature steam.
  • Determine both sucrose and non-sucrose degradation reaction pathways that produce acids during juice evaporation and the extent of sucrose degradation in acid formation.
  • Determine the contribution of acetate ions present in clarified juice to the production of acetic acid in the vapour and condensate.
  • Determine the procedures (physical changes, use of additives) that could be implemented by mills to retard the formation of acids.
  • Determine changes that could be implemented at factories to reduce (1) the formation of acids in juice and condensate; (2) the corrosion of plant equipment in contact with condensate; and (3) the organic loading vented from juice to vapour and passing to the cooling water.

Expected outputs

  • Apparatus and procedure for sampling headspace vapours, condensates and juices
  • procedure for sampling headspace vapours, condensates and juices
  • Preliminary data composition of juices, vapours and condensates
  • Knowledge of the composition of vapours, vents and condensates across the evaporator station for the current operations at low and high levels of steam efficiency in Australian sugar factories
  • Knowledge of the reactions that produce acids in juice during evaporation and the role that sucrose degradation has in the formation of those acids
  • Knowledge of the contribution of acetate ions present in clarified juice on the acidic content of condensate
  • Detailed strategies for removal of volatile and acidic components from evaporator vapour bleeds and vents
  • Detailed operational procedures (physical changes, use of additives) or design modifications that could be implemented by mills to retard the formation of acids, reduce the impact on corrosion of plant equipment in contact with condensate and reduce the organic loading vented from juice to vapour and passing to the cooling water

Expected outcomes

The project gives the Australian mills the ability to implement highly steam-efficient operations and reduce the adverse impacts of loss of revenue through sucrose degradation, reduce the costs associated with the corrosion of evaporation plant and reduce the costs of treating high organic loadings in cooling water system. Without suitable solutions to these problems the industry will face a much greater cost imposition in implementing highly steam efficient technologies.

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

Genetic analysis and marker delivery for sugarcane breeding

Summary

New varieties are the major drivers of productivity in the Australian sugarcane industry. However, the development of new varieties takes approximately 12 years, and many important traits such as disease resistance are only assessed relatively late in the breeding cycle. The use of molecular markers linked to key traits in the variety development program will give breeders the ability to apply selection at earlier stages of the breeding cycle, allowing selection of promising clones and elimination of undesirable clones.

This project will develop a genetic analysis pipeline to characterise high value bi-parental populations, to deliver markers linked to commercially relevant traits for marker assisted selection (MAS).

The establishment of a molecular selection platform in SRA’s breeding program provides a genuine path to market for the outcomes from the CSIRO genetic analysis pipeline.

Objectives

  • Construction of high density linkage maps from two large scale breeding populations nominated by SRA. Identification of marker-trait associations in these populations which will be the driver for marker delivery for MAS in the SRA breeding program.
  • Phenotyping selected populations for disease resistance with the yield and Commercial Cane Sugar (CCS) data provided by the core breeding program.
  • Phenotyping selected populations for disease resistance with the yield and CCS data provided by the core breeding program.
  • Development of high-throughput, low cost SNP markers that can be integrated into the sugarcane breeding program for faster and more efficient selection of varieties.
  • Addition of further genetic mapping and QTL data to the sugarcane genome hub to improve access for researchers to genetic and trait information.

Expected outputs

  • Genetic maps and a list of genes or markers that contribute to economically important traits in sugarcane
  • A standard genetic analysis pipeline for the development and use of molecular markers in MAS for disease resistance, high CCS and yield incorporated into the breeding program
  • A web-based tool ‘the sugarcane hub’ containing data from this project and all other SRA-funded projects on markers and genomic regions that are linked to traits of economic importance that will be used by all sugarcane researchers
  • Development of reliable markers for high value traits such as smut, pachymetra, red rot, yield, Brix and CCS available for use in the SRA breeding program
  • Assessment of new SNP marker technology, GBS, for the generation of genetic maps and novel SNPs in sugarcane in a cost-effective manner

Expected outcomes

  • The use of MAS, using a range of markers linked to key traits such as disease resistance, will increase the rate of genetic gain in the SRA sugarcane breeding program.
  • This will result in the delivery of better varieties for growers and millers and increase the productivity and profitability of the industry.

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

Validating high-throughput phenomics technologies for sugarcane clonal selection

Summary

High-yielding, optimally adopted varieties are crucial to increase industry profitability and maintain sustainability. However, in recent years, genetic gains have stagnated across most sugarcane breeding programs including in Australia.

The breeding program currently uses a selection index based on traits like cane yield, sugar and fibre content. However, these can be difficult to accurately measure in single row small plots in the early stages of breeding because inter-row competition effects can mask genetic effects. This leads to a low accuracy of clonal selections in the early stages of the breeding program.

However, previous research has shown that high throughput drone-based phenotyping represents a cost-effective method to predict traits such as yield by measuring indirect traits such as multispectral vegetation indices (NDVI), which are less subject to competition effects in young plants. This project aims to improve accuracy of early-stage clonal selection by validating high throughput phenomics technologies and developing an optimal selection index.

Objectives

  • Improve and validate methodologies for high throughput field-based phenotyping of indirect selection traits.
  • Refine and validate algorithms for characteristics that may be considered as covariates to improve trial precision, or as indirect selection traits.
  • Develop an indirect trait-based optimum selection index and compare genetic gains based on conventional and indirect traits-based selection approaches.
  • Develop a framework and make recommendations for implementation of high throughput phenomics and the indirect trait-based optimum selection index for early-stage selections in the SRA breeding program.

Expected outputs

  • Phenotyping platform for field-based high throughput phenotyping and pioneering remotely piloted aircraft technology for plant breeding
  • Image processing methods, software and algorithms that are easily scalable
  • A database with accurate descriptions of phenotypic expression of sugarcane clones over time and under diverse environments
  • Plot-plot yield determining factors that can be used as covariates to account for spatial trend analysis
  • Strategy document that outlines pathways for integration of high throughput phenotyping technologies within the SRA breeding program
  • An indirect trait-based optimal selection index for repeatable assessment of sugarcane clonal performance in early-stage selections
  • High throughput and accurate phenotypic data that enables training of genomic selection models and molecular breeding approaches

Expected outcomes

  • An efficient and effective sugarcane clonal selection system will contribute to achieving the 2% genetic gain target set in the SRA Strategic Plan.
  • Improving early-stage clonal selection will maximise efficiency of the selection system by ensuring promising elite clones are not missed and only high performing clones are carried over to the next stage.
  • Improved varieties will lead to improved productivity and profitability for both growers and millers.

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for this research activity.

Harvester losses assessment by real-time Machine Vision Systems

Summary

Sugarcane losses occur during harvesting. Factors such as the speed of the harvester and the speed of the extractor fan affect how much extraneous matter is retained and the quantity of billets and sugarcane juice lost during harvesting.

This project seeks to develop a novel proof-of-concept Machine Vision System for real-time estimation of cane losses during harvest, using imaging to detect billet particles and juice that falls onto the trash blanket. The machine vision sensor data is then compared with sugar expelled from the harvester and commercial cane sugar (CCS) from the mill under a range of field conditions. This enables the harvester operator to potentially adjust harvester operational parameters and amount of loss in response to real-time conditions.

Objectives

  • Identify machine vision sensing technologies that could be used for real-time estimation of harvester losses.
  • Determine the sensitivity of different sensing technologies to the components of harvester losses (billets, billet fragments, juice, juice on leaves) using field samples.
  • Determine operational considerations for sensing technologies in the harvesting environment, for example mounted on the harvester.
  • Develop proof-of-concept analysis techniques for estimation of harvester losses from field data collected with the machine vision sensors.
  • Make recommendations for the sensor configuration and automated analysis algorithms, and identify pathways to market.

Expected outputs

  • Proof-of-concept cane loss sensing equipment and algorithms
  • Proof-of-concept sensing technology to detect cane losses
  • New management strategies through better understanding of harvester and field conditions that vary cane loss

Expected outcomes

  • Proof-of-concept available for further development.
  • Further development will be needed to create a commercial product. The commercialised product is expected to enable harvester operators to adjust harvester performance in response to real-time status of cane loss, which will enhance the return to growers.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

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

Summary

In recent years a number of new varieties have come through the breeding program with poor fibre quality, resulting in soft cane that causes problems during 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.

Separate work is underway to measure fibre quality earlier in the breeding program. This work will take several years to impact on the pipeline of varieties for release.

Objectives

Establish improved automated strategies in the cane preparation and milling stations that will help to effectively process soft canes  by:

  • measuring the effect of various factors such as shredder speed and grid bar settings on the operation and performance of the cane preparation and milling stations
  • incorporating existing and new data with additional equipment and control algorithms in an automated installation that demonstrates improved performance when processing soft cane varieties.

Expected outputs

  • Shredder speeds and grid bar settings that deliver adequate preparation for soft canes
  • Mill settings and algorithms for improved mill control that can process soft canes
  • Detail of the performance of the automated strategy for processing soft canes
  • Knowledge of the effect of processing soft canes on throughput, extraction and final bagasse moisture for different soft cane management procedures

Expected outcomes

  • Soft cane processing strategies that can be implemented to minimise the impact of soft canes on processing cost

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

Eliminating roll arcing

Summary

The extraction of sugar from cane stalks involves passing crushed stalk material between a series of large metal rolls to squeeze out the juice. Roll arcing, the roughening of mill rolls through a welding process, represents a major maintenance cost for mills, and is also a significant health, safety and environment (HSE) risk. Roll arcing is a tedious, repetitive task during which staff work near high energy, rotating machinery, often in the presence of high temperature vapour. Contaminants in welding fumes and ultraviolet radiation in the welding arc are classified as Group 1 carcinogens.

The need to eliminate this practice is a high priority for both financial and HSE reasons.

This project is testing a range of long-life coating technologies, involving MIG welding and laser cladding, that are designed to eliminate the need to undertake roll arcing during the cane crushing season. All Australian sugar milling companies have expressed their support for this project to be undertaken.

Objectives

  • To test a range of roll coating technologies based on MIG welding and laser cladding during a full crushing season in a mill environment.
  • Determine procedures and costs to refurbish the long-life surfaces on SG iron rolls at the completion of the crushing season.
  • To determine the optimal roll surface coating technology that minimises the cost of maintaining mill rolls, taking into account both direct and indirect (HSE) costs.
  • Ensure that there is at least one Australian supplier able to provide the necessary services to apply, maintain and remove the long-life coatings.

Expected outputs

  • Recommended process for coating a roll surface to extend its life and eliminate the need for in-season roll arcing
  • Financial comparison of current process to new process

Expected outcomes

  • Reduced roll maintenance costs, resulting in improved milling profitability
  • Significantly reduced welding fumes in factory workplace during the season, with associated HSE benefits

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

Smarter Irrigation for Profit - Phase 2

Summary

The Smarter Irrigation for Profit Phase 1 project enabled the completion of valuable research in areas including irrigation system audits, irrigation scheduling research, investigation of new technology, evaluation of system design and water use efficiency assessments. This initial project led to phase 2.

Smarter Irrigation for Profit Phase 2 (SIP2) is a partnership between the irrigation industries of sugar, cotton, grains, dairy and rice, research organisations and farmer groups.

This project includes two sugarcane-specific sub-projects:

  • Sub-project 1: Increasing the industry capability to improve irrigation and system selection
  • Sub-project 2: Precision automated furrow irrigation for the Australian sugar industry

Farmers with aging irrigation infrastructure are currently facing the difficult decision of whether to refurbish existing systems or invest in new irrigation equipment. Rising energy costs have added another dimension to this issue, particularly for those growers relying on high pressure travelling gun irrigators, which involve minimal capital cost but high energy costs. Automated furrow irrigation is a potential option for growers. However, there is a lack of knowledge about costs, benefits, and applicability of this technology to other regions.

Previous research has shown that automation of furrow irrigation can improve water use efficiency and reduce labour and energy requirements. This project is building grower understanding of the feasibility of furrow irrigation systems previously trialled successfully in the Burdekin, for southern sugar growing regions. It is addressing the issues involved in adapting existing automation technology to different water supplies and on-farm water delivery infrastructure, different soils and cropping practices, and different field layouts.

It is also assessing whether furrow automation systems can collect the necessary data to provide accurate estimates of water applied, run-off and deep drainage losses to enable better irrigation scheduling decisions. The information gathered during the trials will enable the development of design guidelines and indicative system costs and benefits.

Objectives

The objective of SIP2 is to improve the profit of over 4,000 irrigators. It has 14 sub-projects covering three main components:

  • Development of new irrigation technologies including new sensors, advanced analytics to improve irrigation scheduling and strategies to reduce water storage evaporation
  • Cost effective, practical automated irrigation systems for cotton, rice, sugar and dairy
  • Closing the irrigation productivity yield gap for cotton, rice, dairy, sugar and grains irrigators through a network of 46 farmer led optimised irrigation sites and key learning sites located on commercial farms across Australia

Sugar-specific objectives:

  • Improve irrigation productivity and profitability in the sugar industry by establishing seven local innovation hubs across the main irrigation regions
  • Increase adoption of existing knowledge and use of information and tools through week-long training and capacity-building programs targeted at irrigators, advisors, and service providers in each region
  • Improve capability of growers and advisors through a program of irrigation system data collection, analysis, benchmarking, discussion, reflection, and evaluation
  • Develop resources to support ongoing technical and profitable irrigation decision making, through development of case studies, information sheets, a handbook and ready-reckoner tools to support irrigation system selection, design and operation

Expected outputs

  • Improved irrigation knowledge and skills of sugar extension and productivity staff by building their capacity to measure and assess irrigation systems
  • Establishment of irrigation innovation training hubs across four sugarcane regions
  • A readily accessible resource bank storing participant materials, case studies, information sheets, instructional videos, workbooks and webinar series
  • Establishment of demonstration sites in the Bundaberg region, which can be used to evaluate and demonstrate precision automated furrow irrigation
  • Development of design guidelines and indicative system costs and benefits
  • Tools which can interrogate and analyse the data collected by the automation system for improved irrigation decisions

Expected outcomes

Improved irrigation control empowers growers with the ability to better manage off-site impacts of irrigation. A reduction in tail water might result in reduced water and energy costs for the farmer and will reduce the opportunity for nutrients and pesticides to leave the farm.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for this research activity.

This project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program.

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

Summary

This project will directly address soil and nutrient management practices which have off-farm impacts on water quality of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

The project was developed in collaboration with partners to ensure local relevance and ownership. Embedding land managers in testing and trialling research innovation builds capacity, capability and beneficial networks.

Improved soil health increases the soil’s capacity to store and use water and nutrients, including nitrogen (N) more effectively and efficiently leading to reduced loss into the GBR.

The project takes the knowledge from SRA’s previous project 2017/005 in the Burdekin and Herbert growing regions and applies the most transformational components into Central region. It also capitalises on soil health research by SRA and other leading research agencies across all six growing regions of the industry and transposes relevant information into the Central region.

Ten paired sites (standard practice and >10 years improved farming practice) will be used for trials and demonstrations. The sites will be tested on soil, physical, biological, chemical and crop root health parameters, plus production measurement, to compare the standard and improved practices.

Results will inform regional soil health indicator and benchmark determination, technical resources and extension tools.

An extension model to engage growers in research will deliver knowledge, understanding and capability including resources such as a locally validated in-field Soil Health Ute Toolkit.

Objectives

  • Provide evidence of the benefits of adopting improved farming system practices on soil health and& subsequent advantages to business productivity, profitability & sustainability
  • Establish soil health benchmarks to be used in soil, pest and root test interpretation
  • Verify a subset of soil chemical, physical, and biological indicators to describe soil health & measure soil response to practice adoption
  • Create a network of more knowledgeable soil health service providers, led by an engaged trusted private technical specialist to improve capability to transfer knowledge, skills and solution strategies to growers
  • Provide training and local validation of the “Soil Health Ute Toolkit”, to be used in-field with growers
  • Identify soil, production and profit constraints caused by current practices and build capability to address impediments
  • Advance grower engagement in soil health research trials, leading to improved adoption uptake, by providing seasonally relevant action learning opportunities
  • Provide a conduit for cross-organisational coordination of soil health related action learning activities, a unified approach to soil health language and terminology to reduce confusion, and develop regionally applicable technical resources, underpinned by rigorous science
  • Support participation in GBR water quality offset programs

Expected outputs

  • Regional soil health indicators and benchmarks
  • Eight technical sheets
  • Ten farmer case studies
  • Road testing the soil health extension toolkit

Expected outcomes

  • Greater grower, contractor and service provider confidence in, awareness of and understanding of long-term benefits of improved soil health on production, profitability and sustainable land management
  • Service providers and contractors are trained and resourced to have in-field conversations with their grower networks and provide real-time assessments
  • Targeted land managers have a platform to discuss and investigate options to address impediments
  • Confidence that the sugar industry is improving soil management practices, reducing risk to natural assets
  • Scientifically validated soil health indicators and benchmarks

SRA acknowledges the funding contribution of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (National Landcare Program) and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

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

Summary

This project will directly address soil and nutrient management practices which have off-farm impacts on water quality of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

The project was developed in collaboration with partners to ensure local relevance and ownership. Embedding land managers in testing and trialling research innovation builds capacity, capability and beneficial networks.

Improved soil health increases the soil’s capacity to store and use water and nutrients, including nitrogen (N) more effectively and efficiently leading to reduced loss into the GBR.

The project takes the knowledge from SRA’s previous project 2017/005 in the Burdekin and Herbert growing regions and applies the most transformational components into the Wet Tropics region. It also capitalises on soil health research by SRA and other leading research agencies across all six growing regions of the industry and transposes relevant information into the Wet Tropics region.

Ten paired sites (standard practice and >10 years improved farming practice) will be used for trials and demonstrations. The sites will be tested on soil, physical, biological, chemical and crop root health parameters, plus production measurement, to compare the standard and improved practices.

Results will inform regional soil health indicator and benchmark determination, technical resources and extension tools.

An extension model to engage growers in research will deliver knowledge, understanding and capability including resources such as a locally validated in-field Soil Health Ute Toolkit.

Objectives

  • Provide evidence of the benefits of adopting improved farming system practices on soil health and subsequent advantages to business productivity, profitability and sustainability.
  • Establish soil health benchmarks to be used in soil, pest and root test interpretation.
  • Verify a subset of soil chemical, physical, and biological indicators to describe soil health and measure soil response to practice adoption.
  • Create a network of more knowledgeable soil health service providers, led by engaged trusted private technical specialists to improve capability to transfer knowledge, skills and solution strategies to growers.
  • Provide training and local validation of the “Soil Health Ute Toolkit”, to be used in-field with growers.
  • Identify soil, production and profit constraints caused by current practices and build capability to address impediments.
  • Advance grower engagement in soil health research trials, leading to improved adoption uptake, by providing seasonally relevant action learning opportunities.
  • Provide a conduit for cross-organisational coordination of soil health related action learning activities, a unified approach to soil health language and terminology to reduce confusion, and develop regionally applicable technical resources, underpinned by rigorous science.
  • Support participation in GBR water quality offset programs.

Expected outputs

  • Regional soil health indicators and benchmarks
  • Development of eight technical sheets
  • Development of ten farmer case studies
  • Road testing the soil health extension toolkit

Expected outcomes

  • Greater grower, contractor and service provider confidence in, awareness of and understanding of long-term benefits of improved soil health upon production, profitability and sustainable land management
  • Service providers and contractors are trained and resourced to have in-field conversations with their grower networks and provide real-time assessments
  • Targeted land managers have a platform to discuss and investigate options to address impediments
  • Confidence that the sugar industry is improving soil management practices, reducing risk to natural assets
  • Scientifically validated soil health indicators and benchmarks
  • Surety of the economic viability of sugar dependent Central region communities

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

SRA acknowledges the funding contributions of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (National Landcare Program) and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries towards this research activity.

Maximising cane recovery through development of a harvesting decision support tool

Summary

Harvest losses in the sugarcane industry have been estimated to be over 10% in the form of cane loss, billet damage and high extraneous matter.

Also, it is estimated that an additional 15% (approximately 4.5m tonnes) of industry-wide tonnage is required to maintain the viability of mills. As a result, it is critical to increase production rates and maximise cane recovery on current area under cane.

Recent investments under the Rural Research and Development for Profit program have successfully improved knowledge and increased awareness of the profit lost to poor harvest practices. However, due to the variability in outcomes between operations under different conditions, there is increasing demand from industry for a decision support tool that assists with negotiations between growers and harvest operators so that operators are rewarded for harvest best practice (HBP).

In the absence of a decision support tool, economic uncertainties arising from the adoption of HBP (i.e., harvest cost changes) would likely severely reduce the adoption of recent research outcomes and associated industry benefits.

Objectives

  • To develop a grower- and harvester-friendly decision support tool that applies the latest research findings, incorporates economic evidence, and encourages adoption of HBP, and is freely available to growers.
  • To develop, demonstrate, and validate the economics-based decision support tool to harvesting groups.

Expected outputs

  • An updated base agronomic/economic model
  • An online, freely available decision support tool with an easy-to-use interface
  • Knowledge from analysis of additional burned cane data which allows industry to make economic decisions in a burned cane environment which has not been provided before

Expected outcomes

The online harvesting predictive tool will allow growers and harvesting groups to make decisions on harvesting practices based on economic data which will increase the profitability of growers, harvesters and mills.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

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.

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

Summary

Pan-stage crystallisation is largely undertaken without direct control of the main process parameters. For example, there is no supersaturation measurement and no crystal sizing online system. Indirect measures such as conductivity and ad hoc checking of proof samples under a microscope are currently used. Tighter control of the pan-stage operations would provide benefits in sugar recovery, sugar quality, pan-stage throughput, steam and water consumption.

The ITECA Crystobserver is an online HD video pan microscope that allows crystal growth to be directly monitored in real time. Although commonly used in sugar refineries, this instrument has not been previously tested in a sugarcane raw sugar factory.

This project is evaluating the use of the Crystobserver to improve the consistency of seed crystal production. The production of “C seed” crystals is a critical step in the production of raw sugar crystals, and improved consistency and quality of the C seed will improve the operations and performance of the whole stage.

Objectives

  • Install the Crystobserver in the batch C seed pan at Condong Mill
  • Commission and calibrate the analyser software
  • Integrate software outputs into the factory’s DCS including alarm signals for early detection of process deviations
  • Train operators to assess the C graining performance using the analyser outputs
  • Evaluate the benefits to the pan-stage and factory performance and undertake a cost/benefit analysis resulting from improved production of C grain
  • Develop recommendations for future applications for C graining and other applications on the pan stage, for example magma preparation pan

Expected outputs

  • Demonstrated effectiveness of the Crystobserver to detect very small crystals, for example 5 microns, provide a reliable number count in the field of view and provide reliable measurements of mean aperture and coefficient of variation of the crystal population in the C seed production step
  • Demonstrated ability for production staff to use the data from the Crystobserver in conjunction with other process data to troubleshoot deviations from specification production of C grainings
  • Demonstrated benefits in sugar recovery, shipment sugar quality (e.g. consistency in mean aperture), throughput, steam consumption and water usage for the pan stage as a result of tighter control of the C seed grainings
  • Cost/benefit analysis of using the Crystobserver for monitoring the C seed graining cycle and recommendations for using the system at other factories
  • Assessment of other applications on the pan stage to suit the Crystobserver

Expected outcomes

Improved consistency and quality of C seed crystals will improve the performance of the entire sugar crystallisation process. This will improve productivity and profitability of the milling sector.

This is a Small Milling Research Project.

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

 

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.

Contribution towards Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI) Phase II 2021-23

Summary

Australia’s plant biosecurity system is both a trade and economic asset. It underpins $30 billion in agricultural production per annum and $20 billion of agricultural exports per annum.

Plant biosecurity risks are increasing due to rising global trade and travel, agricultural expansion and intensification, urbanisation in proximity to agricultural land, and other factors such as climate change. Australia’s biosecurity system must remain strong and focussed, and build national capability and capacity to address future challenges. Research plays a critical role in keeping our biosecurity system strong. The PBRI will play a long term role investing in new knowledge and skills across all plant industries to support Australia’s highly regarded plant biosecurity system.

Importantly, the PBRI will provide coordination and collaborative leadership to ensure research is well targeted, innovative and the science is of the highest quality. The PBRI supports cross-sectoral research development and extension to minimise the damaging consequences caused by biosecurity threats to Australian plant industries. This includes endemic and exotic pests, diseases and weeds that affect Australia’s plant industries, community, and the environment. This work follows on from the initial PBRI established in 2017 and concluding in 2021.

This initiative is a partnership between the nation’s plant Research and Development Corporations (RDCs), working collaboratively with Plant Health Australia (PHA), the Department of Agriculture and Water and the Environment (DAWE), industry, and state and federal biosecurity stakeholders.

Objectives

  • Coordinate funding for research and development, deliver vital projects and attract further co-investment

Expected outputs

The PBRI will address gaps in plant biosecurity research as identified in the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB). It will:

  • continue to set national plant biosecurity RD&E priorities
  • support cross-sectoral research to avoid duplication between RDCs, leading to greater efficiency with biosecurity outcomes shared across industries
  • coordinate plant biosecurity research which is often ad-hoc and reactive, addressing a need to avoid duplication and to provide a continuum of short, medium and long term research to support a robust biosecurity system
  • strengthen industry’s connections to the Agriculture Senior Officials Committee (AgSOC), the national Research & Innovation (R&I) Committee and the National Biosecurity Committee (NBC)
  • build plant biosecurity capacity through cross-sectoral research opportunities for state and federal research agencies
  • Increase links with New Zealand researchers through Better Border Biosecurity (B3).

Expected outcomes

  • A coordinated approach ensures that this effort is aligned to broader national goals and delivered with increased efficiency, avoiding duplication of effort.
  • The collaboration between all seven plant RDCs, PHA and government signals the importance these industries place on plant biosecurity RD&E and capacity building for the future.

SRA project contact: Duncan Ferguson

Modern diagnostics for a safer Australian Sugar Industry

Summary

Exotic sugarcane pests and pathogens pose a substantial risk to the Australian sugarcane industry.

Among exotic insect pests, moth borers are a major concern as they are widespread in Southeast Asia, including Papua New Guinea and Indonesia to our north, where they cause substantial yield losses. The introduction of any of the major borers will have significant economic impact on the Australian sugar industry through crop loss.

Diagnostic tests exist for many exotic and endemic diseases, but many of these are out-dated while in some cases, diagnostic tests are yet to be developed. The ability to confidently diagnose these pests and pathogens using specific and sensitive tests will be critical if we are to stop incursions before they become established.

This project, which is a subcontract from the iMapPESTS project led by Hort Innovation Australia, will modernise sugarcane biosecurity diagnostics for the highest priority pests and pathogens.

Objectives

  • Modernise current diagnostics for pathogens
  • Explore and prepare a toolkit for new disease threats
  • 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 SRA dossiers on exotic moth borers.

Expected outputs

  • Three disease-specific diagnostics tests will be developed/optimised each year of the project.
  • A metagenomics toolbox will be developed that can be used for diagnostics of unknown or uncharacterised pathogens from sugarcane. The toolbox will be able to be adapted for use and upgraded as new technology is developed.
  • Improved diagnostic capability for identification of major sugarcane affecting moth borers in the event of future incursions.

Expected outcomes

Enhanced ability to rapidly identify exotic pests and pathogens early during incursions, which will improve the likelihood that the incursion will be brought under control. This will reduce the likelihood of yield penalties associated with future pest and disease outbreaks, which in the case of moth borers could exceed $100M p.a.

SRA Project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

This project is supported by funding from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit Program.

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

Summary

Moth borers represent one of Australia’s most significant biosecurity threats, being common throughout Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and PNG.  In these areas moth borers are not successfully controlled and they represent a significant productivity constraint (up to 20% yield reduction).

An incursion of moth borers is considered a likely risk by the Australian Department of Water and Agriculture. This project is investigating the feasibility of using soil-applied systemic insecticides to manage moth borers in the event of an incursion.

Objectives

  • Evaluate the feasibility of using a range of soil-applied insecticides for the management of a range of moth borer species with the view towards developing pre-emptive management strategies that could be employed in the event of an incursion.
  • Develop efficacy-based data sets to support the development of emergency permits that can quickly be sought in the event of an incursion.
  • If an effective compound can be identified, evaluate the feasibility of using a controlled release formulation that has potential for both the management of moth borers and scarab larvae in the final year.

Expected outputs

  • An understanding of the efficacy of three soil-applied systemic insecticides for the management of moth borers when applied to plant and ratoon crops.
  • Enhanced capability to respond to a moth borer incursion
  • Data sets to support the development of emergency use permits (per APVMA registration requirements) in the event of an incursion

Expected outcomes

  • Preparedness in the event of a moth borer incursion
  • Growers, advisors, and researcher have a clear understanding of how soil applied systemic insecticides can be used to manage moth borers
  • Increased likelihood of successful application for emergency use of chemicals in the event of an incursion
  • Researchers develop a much better understanding of the moth borer problem and the best ways of managing this pest

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for this research activity.

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

Summary

Pathogenic organisms cause yield losses of more than $150M pa to the Australian sugarcane industry. Some of these diseases, such as ratoon stunting disease (RSD), have no clear external symptoms, and current diagnosis involves sending samples for lab-based detection which is time-consuming and labour intensive. The ability to rapidly confirm the presence of pathogens in-field would greatly enhance biosecurity surveillance capability, and lead to better control of the associated 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, which can be used to detect the presence of the pathogens such as Leifsonia xyli subspecies xyli which causes RSD.

The ability to rapidly confirm the presence of pathogens in-field will enable a more rapid response to disease outbreaks and therefore reduce yield losses resulting from these diseases.

Objectives

  • Development of a device based on thermal lysis of pathogens and subsequent combination with micro-magnetofluidics mixing and viscoelastic focusing for DNA isolation to achieve a completely novel method for on-chip DNA isolation from sugarcane samples.
  • Integration of the novel on-chip DNA isolation procedure with a detection chamber that is comprised of an array of microelectrodes for electrochemical/UV-visible detection to achieve a fully integrated multiplexed device for the analysis of pathogenic DNA biomarkers.
  • Engineering a novel class of magnetic nanoparticles with a variety of surface functional groups (e.g., carboxyl, amine groups). For the proposed integrated device, these particles will work as dispersible capture agents and nanoenzymes (i.e., they possess peroxidase-like activity) to produce an ELISA-like readout protocol.
  • Exploring the fundamental microfluidic and nanotechnological mechanisms underlying each of the processes involved in developing the integrated device to achieve optimal analytical performance.
  • Validation of integrated device as an on-farm diagnostic tool for surveillance and monitoring, focussing on RSD as a target disease.

Expected outputs

  • A hand-held diagnostic device that can accurately detect specific pathogens in sugarcane samples in the field.

Expected outcomes

  • Improved understanding and control of sugarcane disease outbreaks, leading to reduced yield losses.
  • Enhanced productivity and profitability of the Australian sugar industry
  • The new platform device has great potential for improved disease management in other crops in Australia and globally.

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

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

Summary

Canegrubs, representing twenty different species, are among the most significant economic pests of sugarcane in Australia and are spread across all cane-growing regions. Canegrubs cause damage by feeding on and damaging the root system. If not managed, over 50% of the cane growing area is potentially at risk and canegrubs would threaten sustainability of the industry through lost production and reduced profitability.

Currently a single active ingredient, imidacloprid, has been used effectively for canegrub management. If this product were no longer available or restricted in use, due to legislative withdrawal on environmental grounds, or insecticide resistance develops, there would be significant consequences for the industry.

SRA has undertaken screening activities with pesticides that show promise for controlling canegrubs. Previous research along with overseas research has laid the foundations for potential commercial and novel products in development.

Objectives

  • Build on existing commercial relationships with three agrochemical companies to select and screen alternative compounds to imidacloprid canegrub control
  • Evaluate novel and existing insecticidal compounds against canegrubs in selected cane-growing regions
  • Evaluate the run-off loss risk of the compounds in the wet season and irrigated conditions
  • Engage with all stakeholders to generate support for a new approach to control canegrubs
  • Develop a field data set that supports the registration of effective compounds

Expected outputs

  • Multiple datasets
  • Screening protocol
  • Alternative products registered or close to registration
  • Integrated management strategy for incorporation into the Canegrub Manual

Expected outcomes

  • Any products registered as a result of the project will be available to growers to manage canegrubs with similar or improved efficacy to imidacloprid and reduced environmental impacts
  • Improved grower confidence that there are other chemical options for managing canegrubs and water quality considerations

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for this research activity.

Environmental DNA technologies and predictive modelling for rapid detection and identification of sugarcane priority pests and diseases

Summary

Biosecurity planning and surveillance is important for the on-going profitability and sustainability of the sugarcane industry.

Existing biosecurity surveillance is based on trapping pests or in-field identification of diseases by specialist entomologists and pathologists.

All organisms shed their DNA into the environment and this environmental DNA (eDNA) can reveal their recent presence even when the pest is no longer present. In-field DNA-based identification can be done without the need for specialist entomologists and pathologists.

Using environmental DNA technology increases the chances of detection before an incursion becomes established. There are multiple recent examples of eDNA technology being successfully used to detect pests in a range of crops.

To ensure that the eDNA surveillance is as cost-effective as possible, sophisticated forecasting is incorporated to identify the areas that are most at risk of pest incursions.

The combination of forecasting and eDNA testing will improve the speed, efficiency, cost-effectiveness and accuracy of biosecurity surveillance.

Objectives

  • Increase efficiency of exotic species detection in real time
  • Develop diagnostic molecular assays for the identification of key sugarcane exotic pests
  • Risk-based deployment of resources through forecasting seasonal pest suitability and surveillance results
  • Development of eDNA sampling approaches that increase the opportunity for exotic pest detection
  • Upskilling of government and industry surveillance staff in the application of detection methods for sugarcane pests including in-field capabilities

Expected outputs

  • Protocols for the detection of sugarcane pests and pathogens based on environmental samples without the need for trapping
  • Pest forecast maps to identify risk pathways across Northern Australia and determine high risk timepoints for establishment and spread
  • A user-friendly pest forecasting interface that will prioritise biosecurity surveillance activities in areas of maximum need
  • Training of key surveillance staff in the protocols for environmental DNA sampling and analysis

Expected outcomes

  • Access to technology and tools that will improve surveillance
  • Faster detection of pest incursions increases the chance of eradication or cost-effective management
  • Early detection will reduce the need for chemical control, so reduce potential environmental impacts and pesticide resistance

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for this research activity.

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

Summary

Current crop protection strategies rely on plant genetic resistance and pesticides sprays. Toxicity both in terms of human health and the environment, lack of specificity, and the development of resistance, persistence of residues and runoff into our precious waterways are major issues with the use of chemical pesticides.

Transformative RNA based biopesticides or ‘RNA vaccines’ for plants as sustainable biological crop protection platform without the need for genetic modification is gaining momentum across the globe. This involves topical application of pest specific double stranded RNA (dsRNA) as the key trigger molecule of RNA interference. On its own RNA is inherently unstable, and therefore requires optimisation to improve its persistence and performance for industry relevant applications.

The University of Queensland has developed a transformational platform of using clay particles as carriers of pest/pathogen targeting RNA which provides stability, rain-fastness, and slow and sustained release of the biological active or dsRNA to afford an extended window of protection.

Greyback canegrub is a major pest throughout Australian sugarcane growing regions and a significant constraint for about 50% of growers. Existing control measures for cane grubs are limited to imidacloprid use and there is no insecticide registered for soldier fly. The current project aims to deliver proof-of concept for delivering RNA biopesticides as an innovative non-GM, non-toxic, ecologically safe topical application for the control of canegrubs as serious pests of sugarcane. It will involve identification of the best target genes for RNAi based biopesticides for both cane grubs and soldier fly and testing the RNAi based biopesticides in feeding assays/glasshouse against canegrubs.

Objectives

  • To sequence and annotate the transcriptomes of greyback canegrub and soldier fly
  • To investigate the movement and uptake of the biological active (dsRNA) in sugarcane to define practical delivery options and feasibility of the approach
  • To design dsRNA constructs targeting critical genes of the canegrub and soldier fly using specifically developed software packages
  • To screen the constructs designed for canegrub as a first case study in feeding assays
  • To load the selected constructs on either BioClay/BenPol delivery platform to proof efficacy in artificial feeding assays before moving to phase 2

Expected outputs

  • A complete annotated canegrub and soldier fly transcriptome
  • dsRNA constructs designed targeting critical genes of greyback canegrub
  • dsRNA constructs for knockdown of gene expression and mortality of greyback canegrub in artificial feeding assays
  • Mechanism of dsRNA uptake and translocation in sugarcane
  • The effectiveness of BioCLay/BenPol for dsRNA delivery as biopesticides in artificial feeding assays

Expected outcomes

  • Transformational alternatives to chemical pesticides
  • Australian-owned, non-GM, non-toxic easy-to-adopt biopesticides developed to proof-of-concept stage for canegrubs
  • Translation potential to target other pests and diseases of sugarcane

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for 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

Summary

The Biorefineries for Profit project is developing technologies to convert crop and crop-processing residues into high value animal feed supplements and industrial chemicals. The project seeks to develop and demonstrate biorefinery technologies that add value to primary products, by-products, and wastes, reduce input costs for primary production, and identify and develop new markets for biorefinery products.

Phase 1 of the project, which concluded in 2019, demonstrated pilot-scale conversion of sugarcane bagasse into new value-added animal feed ingredients (including highly digestible fibre and prebiotic xylo-oligosaccharides), feed probiotics, and also the production of the chemical 5-chloromethylfurfural (CMF) from cotton gin trash.

This Phase 2 project is conducting a series of both chicken and weaned pig feeding trials with bagasse-derived functional fibre, prebiotic xylo-oligosaccharides and probiotic bacterial strains, alone and in combination, to demonstrate the safety, palatability and efficacy of these novel feed ingredients. It will also demonstrate scaled-up production of CMF from cotton gin trash.

Objectives

  • Undertake chicken feeding trials with bagasse-derived functional fibre, prebiotic xylo-oligosaccharides, and probiotic bacterial strains, alone and in combination
  • Undertake weaned pig feeding trials with bagasse-derived functional fibre, prebiotic xylo-oligosaccharides and probiotic bacterial strains, alone and in combination
  • Demonstrate pilot-scale production of CMF from cotton gin trash

Expected outputs

  • A demonstration of the safety, palatability and efficacy of bagasse-derived animal feed ingredients in both chickens and pigs
  • A demonstration of pilot-scale production of CMF from cotton gin trash

Expected outcomes

  • New diversification opportunities for the Australian sugar industry, that will improve profitability and long-term sustainability of the industry

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

This project is 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 industry diversification opportunities investigation support

Summary

The increasing momentum of the global bio-based economy represents an opportunity for the Australian sugar industry to break away from the current dependence on the world sugar price.

Following an on-going market and technology watch exercise, the production of hydrogen from sugarcane bagasse and the production of compostable bioplastics (such as PHA) from cane juice were identified as two potentially attractive diversification opportunities for the sugar industry.

The current project will investigate the potential application of these two technologies and identify any investment barriers to their application.

Objectives

This project will study the production, technology needs, logistics, intellectual property required and make an economic assessment for these product opportunities.

Expected outputs

A complete preliminary technoeconomic assessments of hydrogen production from bagasse and bioplastic production from cane juice will be prepared for SRA.

Expected outcomes

This preliminary feasibility study will assist industry participants in making a decision to continue to the next stage of concept development and highlight any additional research required.

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for 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.

Community trust in rural industries

Summary

There are implications for any industry, sector or individual business when the community questions it or its practices. Trust is the vehicle to acceptance and what is required to avoid this risk. It’s what enables an organisation or industry to be given the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong, it provides a license for innovation and flexibility to experiment, and a general freedom to operate.

Trust is crucial for industry and business because it translates expectations and experience into acceptance. To be accepted by the community you must be trusted, and this research is uncovering what the key drivers of trust are for rural industries as a collective to enable industries to focus on those – rather than what we think they might be.

This investment uses social insights frameworks to identify key social licence issues for the Australian agriculture sector and strategies to build community trust and enhance positive community attitudes to farming.

Objectives

  • Identify the issues that represent risk, threats and opportunities
  • Identify the real drivers of trust
  • Map the connections between industry issues and actions
  • Recommend best course of action and strategy

Expected outputs

  • An analysis of the full spectrum of underlying values driving community attitudes and trust towards food and fibre production
  • A common language and collective national narrative across industry sectors around the community trust challenge
  • Development of capability across industry sectors to monitor, anticipate and respond to shifts in the levels of trust the community has in Australia’s rural industries
  • Identification of common best practice approaches, strategies and interventions for building, rebuilding and maintaining community trust

Expected outcomes

  • Data and insights to inform strategic planning and decision making
  • Consistent messaging on the challenge of community trust across the sector
  • Capacity to track key areas of focus and shifts in community sentiment over a three-year period and facilitate a deeper dive into issues of particular concern

SRA research contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

Australian participation in the European Union Product Environmental Footprint Technical Advisory Board

Summary

The European Union (EU) Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is a program for reporting the environmental impacts of a product or organisation, covering the full supply chain back to primary production.

A high level review of methodology revealed the proposed system does not accurately account for Australia’s environment and will unreasonably disadvantage Australian products.

This collaboration, led by the Australian Wool Initiative, with Meat & Livestock Australia, Grains Research and Development Corporation, Cotton Research and Development Corporation and AgriFutures Australia, aims to technically engage with the EU’s PEF method development process to ensure development of meaningful methodology that does not disadvantage Australian agricultural industries.

Objectives

  • Engage with the PEF Technical Advisory Board (TAB) during the transition phase, to promote use of methods suitable for the agricultural products produced by the represented industries (cotton, grains, red meat, sugar and wool).
  • Provide detailed technical knowledge for engagement at the policy level.
  • Conduct a screening analysis and method assessment of proposed PEF methods for one agricultural product for each of the represented industries.

Expected Outputs

  • Written brief to the industries and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) following TAB meetings to provide an update on progress of the TAB and the PEF program
  • Technical support for the DFAT team and industry officers where this is needed to assist in negotiations regarding PEF on behalf of the supporting industries
  • A cross-sectoral report with industry relevant information for each industry

Expected Outcomes

  • An influential market-facing reporting system for environmental credentials, with point-of-sale collateral (such as labels) communicating the EU’s assessment of products’ environmental credentials
  • Through this project, the sugar industry has a seat at the table at key technical forums in the EU, which provides an opportunity to ensure that the environmental footprint of our products is correctly assessed at all stages of a product’s life

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

Managing Climate Variability Program

Summary

Climate is the single largest driver of production variability in agriculture and accounts for almost two-thirds of annual global crop yield variability. With increasing seasonal variability, it is critical for producers to adapt management practices to reflect the climate.

Over two decades, the Managing Climate Variability Program (MCV) has been the lead R&D program in Australia for providing climate knowledge to primary producers and natural resource managers. MCV 5 was designed to deliver direct value to farmers by helping them manage the risks and exploit opportunities, resulting from Australia’s variable and changing climate.

Objectives

  • Improve the forecast - R&D to improve the accuracy of forecasting on timeframes of value for primary production
  • Value the forecast - Evaluate current (and future) products to establish the value they provide to producers
  • Use the forecast - Maximise use of current MCV products, including the Climate Kelpie website and CliMate App
  • Communicate outputs - Increase awareness of seasonal climate forecasts and improve user confidence

Expected outputs

  • Updated seasonal forecasting model, ACCESS-S
  • Improved forecast of extreme climate events (five experimental products)
  • Well-maintained Climate Dogs and CliMate apps
  • New Climate Kelpie website to enhance producer decision-making
  • Economic models of different producer management options to identify the ‘best fit’ for individual enterprises
  • Communication and extension material covering cropping management and other related practices that assist sugarcane enterprises in Queensland build resilience and adapt to a changing and more variable climate

Expected outcomes

  • Growers are equipped with the information and tools to be forewarned and proactively prepare for extreme and seasonal weather events helps.
  • Sugarcane industry reference group (growers, millers, advisors, extension and researchers) participate in “road testing” the new climate extreme forecasting products on-farm.
  • Growers and millers have better knowledge of how to proactively respond to climate variability. This creates a sustainable, profitable industry with an enhanced capacity to adapt to environmental changes and improve resource use efficiency.
  • There will be a clear link from basic climate research through development, extension and communication to on-farm application of seasonal climate forecasts.

The climate forecasting products were developed by the Forewarned is Forearmed (FWFA) project, which is co-funded by the Managing Climate Variability program, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water’s Rural R&D for Profit Program and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

Support of cane farmer trials of enhanced efficiency fertilisers in the catchments of the Great Barrier Reef

Summary

Enhanced efficiency fertilisers (EEFs) are a form of fertiliser designed to reduce nutrient losses to the environment and increase nutrient availability to crops.

There are two main types of EEFs, nitrification inhibitors and coated products. They both function to keep the amount of soil nitrate low to reduce the risk of nitrogen loss and therefore optimise efficiency and yield. Matching demand and supply reduce risk associated with having large amounts of available N in the soil when the crop does not require it. The challenge for growers is knowing when and where the EEFs may provide the most benefit.

Objectives

  • To identify when and where enhanced efficiency fertilisers (EFFs) can provide a significant increase in nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and reduction in nitrogen losses, resulting in a more profitable and sustainable farming business
  • To generate data on the performance of commercial EEF products on farm productivity, economics, NUE, N rates

Expected outputs

  • Tools and information to help growers define the specific conditions where these products deliver a benefit
  • Development of a farm nutrient management plan with engaged growers to improve nutrient management and identify where Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers have potential to improve NUE
  • Produce robust information for inclusion in industry fertiliser recommendations through decision support tool
  • Case studies that demonstrate the economic returns of EEFs vs. conventional fertilisers
  • An updated Smartcane BMP guide

Expected outcomes

  • Significant and cost-effective increase in NUE and reduction in N losses
  • Broader and highly informed adoption of EEFs across industry through effective extension and communication (growers only use EEFs when and where they are likely to derive best benefit (both economic & environmental).
  • Significant and cost-effective increase in NUE and decrease in N losses

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

This research is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

SIX EASY STEPS - continuing perspectives in time and space

Summary

Nitrogen (N) management is a critical issue that impacts on the productivity, profitability, social, cultural and environment of the Australian sugarcane industry. Getting it right enables a prosperous, productive and efficient industry with environmental accolades and social licence to operate. Getting it wrong (over or under application) will impinge on the ability of growers, millers, harvester contractors and the rural communities of the Australian eastern seaboard to operate economically, socially and/or in an environmentally responsible manner. Appropriate N inputs will ensure efficient and economically effective use of N fertiliser. The resultant optimisation of N inputs for specific circumstances will ensure profitable cane production in combination with environmental responsibility.

While there has been a net decline in average N application rates with time, and a reduction in losses of N fertiliser, the SIX EASY STEPS program’s guidelines encourage development of more precise rates of application. Notwithstanding these improvements, there is continuing scrutiny of the usage and rates of N fertilisers.

This project will update and refine the SIX EASY STEPS program that is accepted currently as the basis for best practice nutrient management (BMP) within the Australian sugar industry. It will enable the intended continuous improvement/learning cycle of the SIX EASY STEPS to be used within the package itself. This will allow new or revised N guidelines and management options to be available to growers and their advisers.

Objectives

  • Establish a mechanism to update the SIX EASY STEPS knowledge base and guidelines (specifically N) when sound scientifically based information becomes available from various R&D sources.
  • Link to other current and planned projects to develop sets of district-specific guideline tables that indicate when and how to adjust the baseline SIX EASY STEPS guidelines away from ‘normal’ circumstances.
  • Provide specific N guidelines and nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) data from continuing for new field trials associated with aspects of temporal/spatial management options.
  • Update the SIX EASY STPES technology transfer mechanisms.

Expected outputs

  • A SIX EASY STPES update/revision mechanism
  • Updated SIX EASY STEPS nutrient management guidelines
  • Knowledge of specific N guidelines and NUE data
  • Updated versions of the SIX EASY STEPS workbook and presentation
  • Updated version of the web-based NutriCalc
  • Proof-of-concept of a decision support framework and an app to enable growers and advisors to make informed choices

Expected outcomes

Approximately 75% of growers (managing about 300,000 ha) and milling companies and technical advisors make more informed decisions that support increased productivity, profitability, NUE and reduced environmental impacts.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

Complete nutrient management planning for the Russell-Mulgrave and Lower Barron catchments

Summary

Previous research has confirmed that the nitrogen (N) rates recommended in the SIX EASY STEPS are sufficient to meet the requirements of the sugarcane crop and meet reef protection regulations. The research has also shown that farm profitability can improve with the recommended levels of N application.

Tailored, on-the-ground assistance for growers to implement nutrient management planning specific to their own farm has proven to be highly successful in reducing levels of N applied.

The Russel-Mulgrave Catchment is identified as a high risk for dissolved inorganic nitrogen and fine sediment. This project will work with up to 100 farms to promote nitrogen use efficiency by engaging agronomic specialists to provide high quality whole-of-farm nutrient management planning and associated farming systems advice.

Objectives

  • Refine nutrient applications, particularly nitrogen, for 100 growers over two years
  • Contribute to improving water quality in the Russell-Mulgrave catchment through the use of nutrient management plans
  • Achieve the adoption of all six steps of the SIX EASY STEPS

Expected outputs

  • Agronomic service and nutrient management plans developed for 100 farms
  • Knowledge and uptake of SIX EASY STEPS will be increased
  • Knowledge of paddock-scale nutrient budgets and their effect on water quality

Expected outcomes

  • Improved water quality outcomes in the Russell-Mulgrave Catchment
  • Economic gains through efficient use of inputs

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

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

Summary

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is the most commonly used process for evaluating the environmental performance of products. When undertaken thoroughly, LCA measures the use of natural resources, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other impacts made during a product’s lifespan.

The last sugarcane LCA was conducted in 2012 and it mainly focused on the environmental impacts at farm level. With strong industry support, SRA is now conducting a new LCA that will identify major environmental risks and threats at all stages of raw sugar production from farm production through manufacturing (milling), up to the processor gate of the sugarcane supply chain. The sugarcane industry is a strong supporter of using robust LCA methodology as a major component of the environment assessment process.

This project is made up of two parts:

Stage 1 is focusing on assessing the environmental risks related to the whole sugarcane supply chain, reviewing past sugar LCAs and making recommendations for the new LCA study.

Stage 2 is focusing on the actual LCA which will be designed to help the industry visualise the environmental and health impacts of the raw sugar value chain (from on-farm production to manufacturing).

Understanding these impacts will also help detect improvement opportunities, hence support the industry’s social licence to operate.

This research will provide key knowledge that will help the industry comply with requirements for retaining social license to operate. It will also be critical for industry sustainability reporting.

Objectives

  • Update the LCA inventory with comprehensive and robust cradle-to-market environmental data
  • Provide to industry the full LCA dataset in a manner that is easily understood
  • Provide recommendations to industry on how the LCA data and information should be presented to other key stakeholders
  • Prepare the LCA inventory data and information in a way that allows for separate and tailored benchmarking, comparisons, analysis, recommendations, and report writing against the risks to the industry value chain

Expected outputs

  • Knowledge of the major environmental risks and threats to the Australian sugar industry and identification of the key domestic and global stakeholders associated with each risk.
  • Identification of unrealised opportunities from previous LCA investments
  • Industry clarity around segments of the value chain where they can improve production efficiency, reduce resource use and ultimately reduce environmental impacts
  • LCA tool to support regional benchmarking and future research

Expected outcomes

  • Industry knowledge of where the major impacts occur along the raw sugar value chain and the major contributions (greenhouse gas emissions, fossil energy use, water, ecotoxicity, land occupation)
  • Management strategies to optimise the environmental footprint and raw sugar ecological performance
  • Enable industry to conduct comparative performance assessment with competing raw sugar producing countries/regions
  • Industry can exploit opportunities for improving resource use efficiency, and support industry diversification
  • Influence policy
  • Information available to underpin future sustainability frameworks
  • Market access in markets such as the EU and others that introduce supply chain sustainability reporting requirements

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for this research activity.

A common approach to sector-level greenhouse gas accounting for Australian agriculture

Summary

A common approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting is an essential tool for Australian agriculture to be able to define and monitor progress towards targets. It will also reduce confusion and improve trust in the calculations making it more likely that mitigation, technologies and practices will be implemented.

Objectives

  • Develop a common approach for GHG accounting that is shared by agricultural commodity sectors, via a collective action process.
  • Develop collective objectives for the methodology (or set of methodologies) for future adoption.
  • Establish the relevant national and international approaches and protocols, taking into consideration the agreed, defined objectives.
  • Identify what design trade-offs make sense, given the common goals articulated by participants and other current or future users, for a potential common approach.
  • Obtain feedback and edited draft approach; work towards delivery of participant consensus on final framework.
  • Identify next steps, including the implementation of the GHG accounting approach in baseline and mitigation assessment, individually or collectively.

Expected outputs

  • Shared understanding of common ground for collective action and areas of concern
  • A common approach for GHG baseline assessment at sector level, including common language and understanding around potential differences between sectors

Expected outcomes

  • Broad adoption and implementation of the approach among participants
  • Well defined methods for sector specific GHG baselines and monitoring progress toward a (collective) national target for agriculture
  • Evidence of transparency and trust in GHG accounting that support climate-sensitive production practices and action by farmers
  • Informing international market access discussions on approaches and tools that reflect Australian conditions adequately

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

SRA acknowledges the funding contribution of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment through Agricultural Innovation Australia.

Mackay Whitsunday Cane to Creek

Summary

There have been multiple programs since 2005 that have delivered many changes in farming practices. These include improved sub-surface fertiliser practices, increased soil sampling for nutrient programs based on Six Easy Steps, and modified herbicide practices.

However, it has been difficult to confirm consistent improvements in water quality at the end of the catchments. At the same time, there has been an increase in the detection of the insecticide imidacloprid, which is used to manage canegrubs.

This project is focussed on engaging with growers in Central region, with an emphasis on priority sub-catchments in the Pioneer and Plane Creek Basins, to improve understanding of the science behind water quality targets and to implement change on their farms.

Objectives

The overarching objective of the project is to accelerate the adoption of improved nutrient and pesticide management strategies that contribute to the achievement of the stated dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and pesticide load reduction targets.

Underlying objectives that facilitate the achievement of the load reduction targets are focussed on achieving:

  • active buy-in and ownership of water quality issues by growers
  • increased skills and knowledge relating to water quality, for both growers and advisors
  • active engagement of growers in evaluating farm practices and impacts on water quality
  • grower-led demonstrations of practices that promote load reductions.

Expected outputs

  • Improved knowledge of correct application of imidacloprid, the Six Easy Steps program, and water quality monitoring processes and purposes.

Expected outcomes

The expected outcome is reduced run-off of pesticides and DIN. This will deliver economic benefits for growers through more efficient use of inputs, and environmental benefits.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

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

Summary

Enhanced efficiency fertilisers (EEFs) slow down the release of nitrogen (N) from fertiliser or keep it temporarily in a form less susceptible to loss.

Previous research has shown EEFs can provide agronomic and economic benefits for growers in some conditions, as well as environmental benefits from reduced N losses through run-off and leaching.

This project aims to improve knowledge of when and where the use of EEFs in place of urea will both reduce the amount of N lost through leaching and run-off and result in agro-economic benefits for growers.

The agro-economic benefits will be achieved where EEFs can be shown to provide a sufficient source of N for sugarcane at lower rates than currently recommended by the SIX EASY STEPS (6ES).

The project will improve understanding of the scope of the reductions in N loss that may be possible and the conditions that increase or decrease N loss.

This project extends on the existing EEF60 trial sites in the Wet Tropics.

Objectives

  • To demonstrate, using strip trials and water quality instrumentation, where and when EEFs can provide a significant increase in N use efficiency and reduction in N loss, resulting in a more profitable and sustainable sugarcane farming business.
  • To provide information on the expected benefits of EEFs in both time and space to inform when and where using EEFs in place of urea will deliver N loss reductions and when they will not.

Expected outputs

  • Knowledge about when and where using EEFs in place of urea will lead to reduced N losses while at least maintaining and potentially improving yield
  • Validation of predictive accuracy of The Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator to sugarcane responses to N delivered through EFFs
  • Agronomic and economic information growers can use to make informed decisions on how best to utilise EEF’s in their farming systems
  • Decision support tool developed to guide growers on selecting appropriate EEFs
  • An industry publication that summarises key findings and guide for growers

Expected outcomes

The information provided by this project can be used by the sugarcane industry to better target the use of EEFs to situations where the farmers benefit economically, and less N is lost to the reef catchments.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

This project 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

Summary

Herbicides are a threat to non-target plants and animals in rivers, creeks, coastal and inshore areas. Most herbicides, being mobile in soil, are carried in run-off and have been detected in Great Barrier Reef (GBR) ecosystems. It is a national 2025 water quality target to ensure that concentrations of herbicides at the end of each catchment are low enough that 99% of aquatic species are protected.

James Cook University (JCU), in partnership with AutoWeed Pty Ltd, have developed the AutoWeed smart spot spraying system that uses deep learning to detect, and spray weeds.

This project will extend the AutoWeed technology to sugarcane, targeting grass and broadleaf weed species.

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 system designed will be detachable and scalable so it can be retrofitted to both high rise and standard booms.

Objectives

  • Design, develop and trial an AutoWeed spraying solution in sugarcane farming systems.
  • Through extensive in-field trials, demonstrate that smart spot spraying can reduce the volume application of knockdown herbicides by at least 80% compared to conventional broadcast spraying.
  • Generate evidence that the reduction in herbicide usage will result in lower concentrations of herbicide mixtures in run-off.

Expected outputs

  • Dataset of priority weeds that can be detected by the system
  • Detection software and hardware
  • Mapped weed and crop data for participating farmers

Expected outcomes

  • Financial savings for participating farmers due to reduced use of herbicides
  • Reduced concentrations of herbicides in run-off entering the GBR catchment

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

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.

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

Summary

The Burdekin is the highest sugarcane producing region in Australia which thrives on high sunlight, low rainfall and high reliability irrigation water supply.

Due to excess run-off from low efficiency furrow irrigation systems, the Burdekin has been identified as a priority catchment for nitrogen (N) and pesticide loads entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Research shows it is possible to reduce N losses through improved irrigation with no impact to yields.

The project aims to maximise industry profitability through smarter irrigation practices which will also improve environmental outcomes.

A nine-step ‘Improved Irrigation Efficiency Pathway’ was collaboratively designed and endorsed by the consortium of key extension stakeholders in the region. The process provides the framework to address industry priorities and water quality targets simultaneously.

Through participation in the project, Burdekin growers will achieve best management irrigation practices so they can attain high yields, reduce electricity and water costs, and deliver improved water quality outcomes.

To capitalise on improved irrigation, a whole farming systems approach will be implemented because the agronomic system is complex and dependent on unique factors including soil type and farm design. Solutions will be delivered not just for irrigation but also for weeds, pests, diseases, and nutrient management.

Objectives

  • Transition growers to proven world class scalable, sustainable and technologically advanced practices in irrigation management
  • Take a whole-of-systems approach that includes water quality monitoring to ensure other priority issues such as improving nutrient and pesticide management are captured
  • Maximise industry profitability through smarter irrigation practices
  • Standardise the process of grower engagement, to a powerful, multi-partnered and cooperative approach that will deliver more value to growers, investors and industry stakeholders
  • Work across organisations to maximise outcomes from strategic coordination, collaborative linkages and consistent messaging

Expected outputs

  • Easily accessible and adoptable best management practice guidelines for farmers
  • Demonstratable environmental stewardship program
  • Farmers trained in smart irrigation management

Expected outcomes

  • Improved industry adoption of smart irrigation leading to improved irrigation use efficiency, minimised input losses and input costs
  • Farmers embracing digital agriculture
  • Improvements in water quality contributing to the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

The Burdekin Irrigation Project is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation with collaboration between Sugar Research Australia, Farmacist, AgriTech Solutions, Burdekin Productivity Services, Burdekin Bowen Integrated Floodplain Management Advisory Committee, James Cook University, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and NQ Dry Tropics.

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.

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

Summary

Enhanced efficiency fertilisers (EEFs) are forms of fertiliser, including nitrogen fertilisers, designed to reduce nutrient losses to the environment and increase nutrient availability to crops. These fertilisers can either slow the release of nutrients for uptake or alter the conversion of nutrients to other forms that may be less susceptible to losses. EEFs hold promise for control of nitrogen availability in soil ensuring productive crops while minimising harmful off-site impacts. However, EEF performance has been variable due to insufficient understanding of the interplay between EFFs with soil types and environmental conditions.

Improving crop productivity and minimising environmental harm to maintain social license are key challenges faced by the sugarcane industry. EEFs have potential as a solution to these challenges but despite their advent decades ago their widespread adoption has not occurred, largely due to cost and variability in performance in tropical regions.

This project is using a range of techniques to understand how nitrogen (N) flows in EEFs in relation to soil types and environmental conditions in sugarcane. This will help tailor N delivery to match crop demand under site-specific conditions.

Furthering understanding of N release-supply dynamics in EEFs across a wide range of sugarcane soils will support decision making so that EEFs can be used where it is economically sound, ensuring that growers benefit financially while also achieving environmental benefits.

Objectives

  • Better understand nitrogen fluxes in EEFs in relation to soil types and sugarcane environmental conditions
  • Achieve a greater understanding of nitrogen flows in EEFs under sugarcane-relevant conditions
  • Select and refine promising technologies to control soil N availability with an emphasis on tailoring N delivery to crop demand under site-specific conditions.
  • Further understand N release-supply dynamics in EEFs across of wide of sugarcane soils, which would refine their use and inform best practice

Expected outputs

  • Greater understanding of the nitrogen flows in EEFs under various sugarcane-growing conditions

Expected outcomes

  • Improved productivity and maximising environmental benefits of EEFs

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

Characterising nitrogen use efficiency in sugarcane

Summary

More efficient nitrogen (N) use in cropping systems can be achieved through improved N management combined with genetic improvement. While the Australian sugarcane breeding program targets traits that improve sugar yield in different production environments, less emphasis has been given to targeting traits that improve efficient use of inputs such as N and water.

Improving nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) through genetic manipulation is challenging due to its complexity. While some gains have been made, there is limited understanding of the mechanisms underpinning NUE and related traits.

More intensive study of elite N-efficient genotypes is needed for determining traits potentially useful for clone selection in breeding programs.

This project will build on previous research evaluating the genetic variation in N response in the field and characterising traits that contribute to NUE.

Objectives

  • Strengthen the sugarcane industry’s efforts to reduce off-farm impact of N fertiliser by developing tools and technologies to improve sugarcane germplasm for efficient use of N
  • Facilitate the development of optimally adapted varieties and improvement of sugarcane soil health and nutrient management
  • Further advance our understanding of sugarcane plant and crop traits conferring NUE and their interaction with changing N supply and management

Expected outputs

  • Improved knowledge about genetic improvement of NUE

Expected outcomes

  • Identifying suitable traits for efficient N use and NUE for improved breeding programs will reduce fertiliser input. This will mean reduced costs for growers.
  • Improving NUE will reduce environmental impact related to N contamination of ground water and potential impacts of the Great Barrier Reef.

SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa

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

Summary

With the increasingly transient nature of the workforce, the training systems for the Australian sugar industry need to be developed so that operator training can be undertaken at any time.

The on-line training courses developed and available on the Australian Sugar Industry Training Learning Management System (ASIT LMS) allow training to take place at any time.

The operator training programs, mapped to the national competencies, along with a structured assessment process ensure that all operators undertaking the courses have their knowledge competency assessed against a minimum industry standard. An industry steering committee will review and comment on each course prior to release.

The industry adoption of the courses developed within the earlier SRA project, SRA2017/013, indicate that these training programs are fulfilling an important need within the Australian sugar industry. During Phase 1 a limited number of training modules was developed. Phase 2 aims to continue the development of the training modules for the factory processes in the development order agreed by the industry steering committee.

Objectives

The aim of the project is to develop the following courses mapped to the national FDF10 competencies:

  • juice clarification covering primary and secondary heating, liming, flocculation, flashing and clarification
  • mud filtration
  • evaporation
  • evaporator cleaning
  • crystallisation.

Expected outputs

Online training courses for available at any time, facilitating self-managed learning and training, and availability of evidence of national competency standard in:

  • juice clarification
  • mud filter operation
  • evaporator operation
  • evaporator cleaning
  • crystallisation.

Expected outcomes

  • A common industry vocabulary to describe the processes and terms used in raw sugar production
  • A single set of industry training and assessment courses that have been developed in consultation with industry and mapped to agreed national competencies delivering a minimum level of knowledge training and assessment for all sugar mill operators for the courses developed

Genetic solutions for determining fibre quality traits in sugarcane

Summary

In the last few years, varieties have been released that have caused milling problems. These “soft cane” varieties have fibre quality measurements that sit outside the normal range, and their “softness” can result in mill stoppages and revenue loss.

Fibre quality measurement is labour intensive and time consuming and is therefore done in the later stages of the sugarcane breeding program. A relatively simple, high throughput screen for fibre quality could potentially be applied at an earlier stage to eliminate soft cane varieties earlier in the breeding program.

This PhD project is comparing a set of genotypes with soft and normal fibre quality, with respect to anatomy (using microscopy and image analysis) and biochemical composition to look for traits linked to fibre quality, and will also use genetic analysis to identify any associations between existing SNP array data and fibre quality measurements.

Objectives

  • Examine selected sugarcane genotypes in detail for variation in their stalk anatomy using microscopy and digital image analysis and determine relationship to fibre quality measurements
  • Conduct biochemical analysis to investigate how much variation there is in the structure of the cell walls of these varieties, and how this is related to their milling qualities
  • Use genetic analysis to determine association between existing SNP array data and fibre quality measurements - to identify potential genes that influence fibre quality traits

Expected outputs

  • Knowledge that assists breeders to develop varieties that have good quality fibre qualities.
  • New information on sugarcane stem anatomy and biochemical analysis

Expected outcomes

  • Increased efficiency in the breeding program by elimination of soft canes early in the cycle
  • Reduced likelihood of soft canes being released with associated milling problems

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

Advancing techniques for diagnosis of yellow canopy syndrome

Summary

This PhD project, which is funded through the Grains Research & Development Corporation-led Rural R&D for Profit project “Boosting diagnostic capacity for plant production industries”, is working on improved techniques for diagnosing yellow canopy syndrome (YCS). Although the cause of this syndrome is currently not fully defined, the role of insects is one research area being examined. As part of the research there are two main research aspects that will be explored in selected cane-growing regions.

A rapid in-field molecular diagnostic method would allow more detailed evaluation of the insect fauna at the species level, particularly for insect groups which are prevalent when YCS occurs. It would also allow a detailed study of the population dynamics of those targeted insects, both within cane fields and within field borders.

Alternatively, or in combination, symptom expression could be detected at an early stage before symptoms become apparent at ground level using remote sensing technology.

This work is occurring in collaboration with the University of Southern Queensland and Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC).

Objectives

This project will engage a PhD student to investigate potential causal agents of yellow canopy syndrome of sugarcane and examine foliar changes during YCS symptom expression, focusing on:

  • the in-field epidemiology and dynamics of both yellow canopy syndrome and likely causal agents at species level
  • development of a molecular diagnostic approach to characterise the insect species likely to be involved as causal agents
  • Rapid in-field diagnostics for the causal agent and/or YCS symptom expression.

Expected outputs

  • The possible identification of a causal agent for YCS
  • A new molecular diagnostic tool for DNA extraction of bulk mealybug meal and/or leafhopper samples for DNA barcoding to species level
  • Spectral signature and unique hyperspectral wavelength bands characterised for YCS

Expected outcomes

The direct impact of this project would be for the sugarcane industry where YCS prevails in all sugarcane growing regions. However, the methodology developed could also be then modified and transferred to similar crop ‘syndromes’ that occur in other in other industries, for example viticulture (grapevine yellows), livestock pastures (pasture dieback), vegetables (various phytoplasmas), cereals (aphids) and associated viruses.

This project is supported by GRDC, through funding from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program and Cotton Research & Development Corporation, Hort Innovation, Wine Australia, Sugar Research Australia and Forest & Wood Products Australia.

SRA project contact: Dr Stephen Mudge

Engineering bacterial enzyme secretion for cellulose utilisation

Summary

Microbial fermentations to produce biochemicals from waste biomass are regularly touted as a route to diversify and add value to the sugar industry. However, utilising lignocellulosic biomass is expensive, partly due to the cost of enzymatic pre-treatments to release fermentable sugars.

This two-year Master of Philosophy project aims to develop microbial technology to reduce the cost of extracting fermentable sugars. It will involve engineering a bacterium to secrete cellulolytic enzymes so it can directly extract and use 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.

Objectives

  • To engineer a recombinant Pseudomonas putida strain that produces and secretes high levels of cellulase enzyme, and to test this strain’s ability to digest cellulose-rich biomass

Expected outputs

  • An engineered strain of P. putida that secretes cellulase, and data on this strain’s ability to degrade cellulosic biomass

Expected outcomes

  • The primary outcome of this project will be a new industrially relevant bacterial strain that can metabolise cellulose while also being tolerant to lignin and engineerable for production of high value chemicals. The goal is that this new P. putida strain will be a useful platform technology for converting waste biomass into commercially valuable biochemicals, providing economic benefit to the sugar industry through product diversification.

Site by Swell Design Group