Research Portfolio

Key Focus Area 1

Optimally-adapted varieties, plant breeding and release

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

Exploiting introgression for the development of productive and regionally adapted varieties for NSW

This project aims to explore sugarcane variety improvement opportunities available through introgression, in relation to two-year cropping, temperate cane growing conditions of NSW, and frost.

Applying the genome sequence for variety improvement: validation and implementation

This project aims to select markers previously identified and validate these markers in current Australian germplasm. Once the markers are validated the project seeks to convert the markers to a high throughput robust marker system that can be implemented in the Australian breeding program. The project will sequence Australian lines to identify SNPs close to the original marker and identify the most appropriate method of implementing these SNP markers into the breeding program. No markers to date have been utilised in the Australian breeding program although project BSS319 has successfully used DArT markers to determine the approach for implementation of markers in the breeding program.

Sugarcane root systems for increased productivity; development and application of a root health assay

The objectives of this project are to :

  1. Establish a tall pot growth system and develop digital methods that can be used widely in pot and field trials to standardise the measurement of root architecture traits.
  2. Establish a set of parameters to measure root cell viability and integrity to assess root function and turnover.
  3. Provide a baseline description of a healthy root system, in terms of root architecture and function, based on plants grown in pots with non-limiting supplies of water and nutrients. This will form the standard for assessing root systems in field conditions.
  4. Assess the diversity of sugarcane root systems amongst commercial varieties and near-to-commercial lines.
  5. Define the effect of specific factors on root architecture and function in a range of genotypes in both pot and field situations. Factors will include waterlogging, water deficit, soil structure and sodicity.
  6. Assess changes to root architecture and function in plants affected by yellow canopy syndrome.

Impact of stool architecture on ratooning ability

The objectives of this project are to:

  1. Form an industry consultative panel to scope essential criteria for analysis, guide selection of varieties and review results
  2. Develop a pot trial system that models ratoon regrowth of tillers to allow analysis of stool morphology traits
  3. Establish methods and define parameters for measurement of key morphological traits. The traits that will be examined include (i) developmental traits (e.g. time of tiller emergence, rate of growth, persistence), (ii) morphological traits (e.g. number of buds, position in stool, angle of emergence), and (iii) biochemical traits (e.g. sucrose content of stool internodes).
  4. Test the hypothesis that stool architecture has changed in modern varieties by characterising a range of commercial varieties released over a 50 year period.
  5. By consultation with the industry panel identify appropriate trials for sampling which have been rated for ratooning ability (stalk number, stalk weight, CCS). Collect field samples and analyse to test correlation between morphological traits or combinations of traits and ratooning capacity.

Leaf sucrose: the link to diseases such as YCS and enhancement of sugarcane productivity

Leaf yellowing in sugarcane is typical of many diseases that are linked to changes in sucrose metabolism. Photosynthesis and stomatal conductance are lower throughout the canopy of YCS-expressing plants and biomass production and sucrose yield is compromised. Disruption to plant metabolism in the upper canopy of crops occurs during peak growth periods well before symptoms of leaf yellowing is observed. There are several similarities between YCS and the slowdown in growth commonly referred to as the reduced growth phenomenon (RGP), which is also linked to leaf metabolism. Identification of the processes that control sugar levels in the leaves, the feedback mechanisms on leaf metabolism and a better understanding of the source sink relationship is a prerequisite for the management of YCS and potential identification of the causal agent or process. Additionally, such knowledge will also enable planning and execution of strategies to enhance sugarcane performance through conventional breeding and gene manipulation strategies.

Generation of a high throughput SNP marker chip for introgression of resistance genes from wild germplasm into sugarcane, targeting smut, pachymetra and nematodes, to generate more resistant varieties faster

This project seeks to:

  1. Capture the gene markers identified through RNAseq in an earlier project (CPI026) and convert them to high throughput SNP markers for resistance to smut.
  2. Establish gene markers linked to pachymetra and nematode resistance via RNAseq and mapping using information from BSS358.
  3. Develop a cost effective and efficient SNP marker chip platform for implementation in the sugarcane breeding program.
  4. Determine if a SNP chip specific for disease resistance is economically viable in the sugarcane breeding program by comparing the selection of clones from the introgression project using the SNP chip to the selections using the traditional phenotypic method
  5. Establish the most economically viable stage within the breeding program that disease resistance should be screened for using a SNP chip.
  6. This project targets smut and pachymetra as the first test of this process but aims to also target nematode resistance

Selecting high value chromosomes from wild introgression material to deliver more resistant varieties faster

The overall objective of this project is to develop the methodologies that will allow single condensed Erianthus and S. spontaneum chromosomes to be isolated from the complex genome of sugarcane so that high value single chromosomes of Erianthus can be sorted out of introgession germplasm.

Improving early stage selection of SRA breeding program by indirect selection of plant vigour

High throughput phenotyping has been suggested as a tool for indirect selection of plant vigour and biomass production in the early stage breeding trials. The canopy temperature and conductance measured at the correct time can associate with cane yield in sugarcane. Therefore this project aims to validate early-stage canopy temperature and canopy conductance (CC and CT) based yield prediction in the CAT population, development of high-throughput phenotyping platform for canopy temperature based yield prediction and make recommendation for implementation of the high throughput screening system in the breeding program to improve the selection efficiency.

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

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

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

New approaches to identify and integrate Pachymetra resistance genes from Erianthus into SRA breeding program

Pachymetra root rot causes annual losses to the Australian sugarcane industry of approximatively $80M. This project aims to address this loss by targeting a known source of resistance to the disease that has not yet been exploited. SRA has two different sources of Erianthus material, one from Indonesia and one from China. Pure Erianthus clones from Indonesia have been tested and are immune to Pachymetra, yet fertile hybrids using this material have never been achieved. The SRA breeding program also has new Erianthus germplasm derived from Chinese Erianthus tested for their resistance to Pachymetra. This project aims to capitalise on this knowledge and these resources by combining these two sources of Erianthus, and plans to introduce the untapped source of Pachymetra resistance into the SRA breeding program.

This project will provide the Australian sugarcane industry with a collection of new germplasm to accelerate the improvement of productivity and sustainability. Potential new resistances gene to Pachymetra will be incorporated into the industry's breeding program to produce new varieties to address the loss due to Pachymetra root rot.

Licence to Farm: Nitrogen use efficient varieties to meet the future environmental targets

The ultimate objective of this project is to maximise the genetic potential of varieties to capture and use the N supplied, thus minimising its input requirement and N loss. This project aims to:

  • Identify traits underpinning NUE in sugarcane. These traits, including those targeting for N capture efficiency, should explain why some genotypes are highly responsive and high-yielding under a given (low or high) N supply. They will also help identify clones i) for breeding for high NUE, and ii) with high N response suitable for recommending to low N situations.
  • Develop tools and technologies for screening large populations for NUE traits in the field. This knowledge/capability will help define optimal clone selection environment and other NUE selection criteria.
  • Quantify the variation for ammonium and nitrate (the most abundant and labile N form, but not preferred by sugarcane) capture and use in sugarcane. This is a critical knowledge gap impacting the development of varieties that maximises N uptake/use.

Reviewing and extending knowledge of fibre quality assessment and effects of cane varieties

This project seeks to improve knowledge of the significance of fibre quality measurement (FQM) data to improve its value for variety selection and to provide guidance on further research work to utilise FQM requirements to guide variety development by:

  • Better understanding the effects of location, crop class and maturity on fibre quality measurements for different varieties by reviewing historical data and conducting a designed experiment.
  • Assessing whether the condition of the SRA shredder, used to prepare samples for FQM, affects the measured values by comparing measured values before and after the shredder refurbishment in 2016.
  • Identifying how different varieties affect factory operation and performance by analysing historical data and seeking relationships between problem varieties and FQM.
  • Reviewing the safe range for existing FQM taking into account measurement variability and values known to cause problems in the factory.
  • Identifying other candidate FQM methods from other sugar industries and other fibre industries.
  • Recommending better ways to present FQM data for consideration by variety adoption committees.

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

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

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

Key Focus Area 2

Soil health, nutrient management and sustainability

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

Strategies to manage soil-borne fungi and mitigate sugarcane yield decline

Sugarcane yield declines with continuous cropping and soil-borne diseases in sugarcane monocultures represents a significant challenge as pathogen numbers increase. The project aims to deliver fundamental knowledge on soil-borne fungal communities and of rhizosphere-fungal interactions in sugarcane production systems and factors impacting on the incidence and suppression of root diseases. This information forms the basis of management strategies focused on selection of planting sequences and targeting of inputs to suppress root diseases, to enhance root health and maximising resource-use efficiency

Improving NUE for sugarcane crops with constrained yield potential

Improving nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is important for the economic and environmental sustainability of the sugar industry. Better matching nitrogen fertiliser inputs to crop requirements will contribute to greater NUE.  The impact of soil sodicity, poor drainage and harvesting late in the season on nitrogen fertiliser requirements is not well understood.  Defining appropriate nitrogen fertiliser rates for sugarcane crops affected by soil sodicity, poor drainage or harvesting late in the season will help improve NUE in the immediate to mid-term future.  The major objectives of this project are to:

  • Refine N rates and improve nitrogen use efficiency for crops where the yield potential is constrained by sodicity or poor drainage in the Central and Wet Tropics regions.
  • Refine N rates and improve nitrogen use efficiency for crops harvested and ratooned late in the season in the Wet Tropics.

Decision support for informed nitrogen management: soil nitrogen mineralisation test and the assessment of soil crop N contribution to crop N requirements

Predicting the contribution of soil N mineralised during the growing season to crop N requirements is an essential prerequisite to determining an appropriate rate of fertiliser. Crop nitrogen demand is met from a number of sources, not only N of fertiliser origin but also N derived from legume fallow crops, mill by-products, nitrate-N in irrigation water and, very importantly, N mineralised from soil organic matter. The quantity of N contributed by the latter component is not well understood and is nominally accounted for in the Six Easy Steps by a look-up table based on soil organic C. However, there is a poor correlation between soil organic C and nil applied N cane yield (and, by inference, crop N uptake) demonstrating that more appropriate indicators of soil N mineralisation are required to better inform N fertiliser recommendations.

Improving management practices of legume crop residues to maximise economic and environmental benefits

Growing a legume break crop between sugarcane cropping cycles can improve soil health and potentially supply 50-300 kg nitrogen (N) per ha during the following sugarcane growing seasons, thus significantly reducing or even eliminating fertiliser N application. Unfortunately, large amounts of legume N can be lost from soil through leaching, runoff or microbial denitrification, particularly during the period before or shortly after cane planting when there is no or limited N demand by the crop. The project is investigating a suite of novel legume residue and nitrogen management strategies aimed to reduce N losses, enhance N availability to the subsequent sugarcane crop, minimise the amount of supplementary fertiliser application, maintain sugar yield, and mitigate the impacts of N losses to the environment.

How much N will that crop need? Incorporating climate forecasting into nitrogen management in the Wet Tropics

The Wet Tropics experiences one of the highest levels of climate variability in the world, which affects the yield potential of sugarcane. This makes the task of applying the right amount of N, at the right time, extremely formidable. Forecasting climatic conditions, then adjusting yield potential estimates, has not been performed to calculate sugarcane N inputs. In contrast, this practice has been widely adopted in the grains industry. The grains industry has also invested heavily to develop a delivery mechanism ("Yield Prophet") for this information to be disseminated to grain growers. There is a clear and pressing need for the Australian sugar industry to do the same.

More Profit from Nitrogen

More Profit from Nitrogen (MPfN): enhancing the nitrogen use efficiency of intensive cropping and pasture systems is a four year partnership between Australia’s four major intensive users of nitrogenous fertilisers: cotton, dairy, sugar and horticulture. For each of these industries, nitrogen (N) is a significant input cost to farmers and a substantial contributor to environmental footprints. Collectively, the Program aims to bring about increased farm profitability and reduced environmental impact by increasing nitrogen use efficiency (NUE), resulting in a reduction of the amount of N required in producing each unit of product.

There are 10 projects being delivered under the umbrella of the MPfN Program involving thirty-one collaborating organisations. Research activities encompass both field and laboratory based work to explore ways to optimise NUE through:

  • Efficient irrigation practices
  • Managing N fertiliser with consideration of soil mineralisation factors
  • Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers (EEFs)
  • Developing new N fertiliser products and optimising existing products through blending
  • Testing and developing industry N Best Management Practices (BMPs)

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

Find out more about the MPfN by visiting the program website here.

Specific research projects:

Improved nitrogen use efficiency through accounting for deep soil and mineralisable N supply, and deployment of enhanced efficiency fertilisers (EEF) to better match crop N demand

New technologies and managements: transforming nitrogen use efficiency in cane production

Smart blending of enhanced efficiency fertilisers to maximise sugarcane profitability


SIX EASY STEPS - continuing perspectives in time and space

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

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

Measuring soil health, setting benchmarks and driving practice change in the sugar industry

The aim of this project is to:

  1. Demonstrate the benefits of moving to improved farming systems on soil health, productivity and profitability a. Economic evaluation of long-term IFS sites and short term IFS transitioning sites b. Develop decision-based economic tools c. Measure changes in soil health under a range of farming practices
  2. Create a soil health knowledge platform and a network of extension and adoption officers with improved capability to transfer knowledge and promote farming system changes
    a. Repackage previous research findings and industry knowledge
    b. Develop district-specific extension plans and new extension products
    c. Establish demonstration sites
    d. Appoint Soil Health officers at HCPSL and BPS to drive practice change
    e. Appoint SRA adoption officers to support practice change
    f. Develop a program of advisor training
  3. Develop a soil health toolbox to measure soil health across a range of soil types and farming systems.
    a. Identify the best subset of soil chemical, physical, and biological indicators able to describe soil health and measure soil response to practice change b. Make this test commercially available
  4. Establish benchmarks for soil test interpretation and sub-regional benchmarking of soil indicators
  5. Conduct research to address the root system knowledge gap

Unravelling the impact of climate and harvest time on nitrogen fertiliser requirements

This project will improve fertiliser NUE in a profitable and sustainable manner without reducing productivity in the Herbert region by:

  1. Determining how N requirements vary according to seasonal climatic conditions for major soil types
  2. Determining how N requirements vary according to harvest time and sub-region
  3. Developing productivity performance groups which identify similar soils, sub-regional differences in climate and other critical agronomic/management factors influencing N fertiliser requirements to allow for soil type and/or location specific climate and late harvest effects
  4. Integrating project outcomes into SIX EASY STEPS to help make N guideline tables more district specific

Key Focus Area 3

Pest, disease and weed management

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

Solving yellow canopy syndrome (YCS)

The project is focused around five key areas:

  1. Is YCS caused by a biotic and/or abiotic factor?
  2. Which environmental factors and mechanisms drive/ameliorate expression of symptoms?
  3. How widespread is YCS in each district?
  4. What is the impact of YCS on the sugar industry?
  5. Exploring management options once the cause is known.

Developing an alternative herbicide management strategy to replace PSII herbicides in the Wet Tropics area

This project focuses on developing cost effective weed management strategies to better control weeds in the Wet Tropics without relying on diuron and contributing to achieving the target of 60 percent reduction in pesticide pollutant loads under the ReefPlan program. It is focussing on:

  • Development of cost-effective pre-emergent herbicide strategies using alternatives to diuron;
  • Development of alternative post-emergent strategies to diuron to control perennial grasses; and
  • Development of cover crops and farming practices to reduce the reliance of pre-emergent herbicides in fallow and plant cane.

A Novel Polyphasic Framework to resolve Yellow Canopy Syndrome Paradox

Delivery of remote sensing technology to combat canegrubs in Queensland cane fields

One main obstacle in the fight against canegrubs is the difficulty to predict future damage in order to strategically implement chemical control.

Remote sensing offers the opportunity to proactively deal with emerging grub damage on a regional level before the problem gets out of hand.

A previous remote sensing project demonstrated the high accuracy that can be achieved to identify damage using the high resolution GeoEye-1 imagery.

However, these images are expensive. Therefore, this current project is examining the feasibility of using the lower resolution Spot 6/7 imagery to produce reliable/more affordable risk maps.

If feasibility is demonstrated, then the potential to develop a commercialisation plan with the industry will be explored.

Securing Australia from PNG biosecurity threats

The Australian sugarcane industry has benefited from the exclusion of major pests and diseases that affect overseas sugarcane production areas; we remain free from a significant number of major biological constraints. A particularly important exclusion has been stem borers; several damaging species are present in PNG, where they exert a very significant influence on commercial crop production. Major diseases (Ramu stunt / downy mildew, among others) are also present in PNG and of these downy mildew continues to adversely affect crop yields.

It is extremely important that the industry prepares for possible incursions of major pests and diseases present in production areas very close to our shores (PNG and Indonesia). A failure to plan for these threats leaves the industry in a very vulnerable position. This project is addressing the issue though the development of resistance screening tests for the major pests and diseases, the development of specific diagnostic assays for each of the major diseases, and updating of contingency so that industry can effectively manage a pest or disease incursion.

Identifying new-generation insecticides for canegrub control as contingency for loss of amenity with the existing product

More than half of Australia’s cane fields are at risk of infestation from canegrubs which can reduce both yield and the number of ratoons obtained from a crop. Despite this risk, Imidacloprid is the only insecticide currently used to manage canegrubs. The reliance on a single active ingredient to manage this important pest is a high risk to the Australian sugar industry for a number of reasons. These include the potential for insecticide resistance, enhanced degradation or regulatory restriction on environmental grounds all of which could leave the industry without a viable method of canegrub control. To mitigate this risk, this project is working with a range of agricultural chemical companies to screen new insecticides with the view towards developing further chemical options to control these important insect pests.

You can’t manage what you can’t identify: Managing threats from exotic moth borers through accurate identification

Sugarcane moth borers that pose a serious threat to the Australian sugar industry exist to the immediate north of Australia. Despite their damage potential, the taxonomic identity and geographical distribution of several species remain largely unresolved. This project aims to deploy a 'Next-Gen' sequencing approach on selected borer species from neighbouring countries. Further species confirmation will be conducted via morphological examination of specimens of adult borers. This will assist in resolving several taxonomic ambiguities and will lead to developing reliable phylogenetic trees. All Incursion Management Plans will be updated according to project findings. This project will help us recognise geographical distribution of key exotic borers and will improve our Emergency Response in case an incursion is detected in Australia.

Molecular assay of major soil-borne pathogens for better exploitation of commercial varieties

Australia currently leads the world in providing molecular diagnostic tests for soilborne pathogens. A DNA-based soil-testing service (PreDicta BTM) has been available to grain growers since 1997 and a similar service (PreDicta PtTM) now operates in the potato industry. Key features of these services are:

  1. a unique high-throughput DNA extraction system capable of processing relatively large soil samples (approx. 500 g);
  2. a series of specific real-time PCR assays which allow many different fungal and nematode pathogens to be quantified in a single soil sample;
  3. disease risk categories that indicate the likely risk of crop losses from each pathogen; and
  4. training and accreditation programs for consultants which ensure that results are interpreted adequately at the farm level (Ophel-Keller et al., 2008).

In contrast, the soil-borne pathogens that damage sugarcane are quantified using manual methods. With both oomycete and nematode assays, the extraction methods are time-consuming and the pathogens must be identified and counted under a microscope. Molecular diagnostic techniques are a practical and affordable alternative and offer several advantages:

  1. many different organisms in quite different taxonomic groups can be quantified in a single soil sample; and
  2. taxonomic skills are not required to identify the pathogens. However, another important advantage is that beneficial organisms can also be quantified.

Thus, it is possible to measure populations of organisms that are good biological indicators, and organisms that are antagonistic to pathogens. This project will move diagnostics for soilborne pathogens of sugarcane into the molecular era. It will provide a comprehensive assessment of three important components of the soil biology: the major soilborne pathogens of sugarcane; useful biological indicators of soil health; and key natural enemies of major nematode pests.

Investigation of biotic causes of yellow canopy syndrome

The overarching objective of this project is to establish whether a biotic agent causes YCS, and if so, to determine the identity of this agent. To address these research questions, several lines of experimentation will be pursued in order:

  • To investigate whether symptoms of YCS are suppressed by applications of selective antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics, fungicides and antiviral compounds.
  • To search for evidence of pathogen infection using a variety of diagnostic methods such as electron microscopy, microbial culturing, and DNA sequencing.
  • To develop diagnostic methods for YCS.
  • To better understand the basis of pathogenicity.
  • Keeping chemicals in their place - in the field

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

    Delivering solutions for chlorotic streak disease

    This project will address the KFA1 priority research opportunity for novel research approaches to improve sugarcane varieties and the objective of KFA3 to minimise the economic and environmental impacts of diseases through targeted research. The objectives focus on extending and delivering research outputs from 2013357:

    • Develop a novel, rapid and reliable chlorotic streak variety resistance screening method to provide better information about new varieties. Methods will be developed to obtain resistance ratings using pure cultures of the chlorotic streak pathogen and these methods will be integrated into the SRA plant breeding program.
    • Deliver a diagnostic service to productivity groups through integration with the existing SRA RSD diagnostic laboratory. The PCR-based diagnostic test will be extended beyond the research phase and used to assist productivity services to deliver clean seed to the industry.
    • Establish a communication strategy to promote adoption of the new variety resistance ratings and diagnostic assay by industry, to facilitate better CS management.

    Seeing is believing: managing soil variability, improving crop yield and minimising off-site impacts in cane using digital soil mapping

    This project aims to improve yield, profitability and reduced off-site environmental impacts by better managing soil variability. The project will deliver this by demonstrating how a DSM approach using six steps (i.e. Step: 1 - Meet, Step: 2 - Measure, Step: 3 - Model, Step: 4 - Map, Step: 5 - Manage and Step: 6 - Monitor) in eight fields located in four key sugarcane areas (i.e. Mossman, Herbert, Burdekin and Proserpine) can lead to improvements.

    Key Focus Area 4

    Farming systems and harvesting

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

    Increased harvest recovery: reducing sugar loss and stool damage

    The three key objectives of the project are:

    1. Reducing sugar loss at harvest due to cleaning system and chopper losses
    2. Identifying system constraints to maximizing sugar recovery and investigating alternative approaches for the harvest/transport/milling system
    3. Understanding impacts of stool damage due to harvesting and promoting options to minimise the effect on ratooning

    Demonstration of GPS-guided laser levelling and its associated productivity response

    Drainage problems in many parts of the Mulgrave cane growing region have long been associated with reduced productivity, particularly in low lying, poorly drained heavy soil areas. This project will demonstrate the productivity benefits of better drainage of surface water from paddocks. By demonstrating the productivity gains of laser levelled fields and assessing the cost/benefit, the project aims to influence growers to incorporate field drainage in areas impacted by waterlogging.

    Assessment of new management strategies for marginal soils

    Sugarcane grown on marginal soils has low yield potential. Marginal soils generally have low fertility, poor internal drainage, poor structure, low water holding capacity, low organic matter levels and constraints at depth such as sodicity. The project is investigating whether the placement of organic ameliorants (mill by-products, compost) at depth in these soils will improve soil condition and sugarcane yields. The major objectives are to:

    • Determine whether the placement of soil ameliorants at depth (40 cm) increases sugarcane yield on marginal soils;
    • Determine changes in soil properties associated with placement of ameliorants at depth and those responsible for any yield increase;
    • Assess the longevity of any treatment effects by monitoring plant and ratoon crops; and
    • Make an economic assessment of the cost of placing ameliorants at depth and likely impact on grower profitability.

    Bio-prospecting for beneficial endophytes of sugarcane

    Sugarcane was domesticated thousands of years ago and has since undergone many cycles of selective breeding. The current phenotype of sugarcane varieties is very different from the original plant ancestors and the genetic base of these modern varieties is very narrow. In the process of domestication and breeding, microbes that were naturally associated with wild sugarcane have been lost. These sugarcane-associated microbes or endophytes could confer or restore beneficial traits such as improved disease resistance and crop performance under abiotic stress. The project will screen the naturally occurring endophytic makeup of sugarcane and related ancestral species, and aims to identify and deliver one or more endophyte strains that provide either pest/disease resistance tolerance of abiotic stresses, or both, which can be inoculated into modern sugarcane varieties.

    Incorporation of Australian Crop Data and Industry characteristics into a Tool to Facilitate Informed Harvest Decision-making for the Australian Industry

    Cane loss has been recognizsd as a major issue associated with green cane harvesting since its earliest adoption. SCHLOT (Sugarcane Harvesting Logistics Optimization Tool) is a decision-support tool which can make realistic predictions relating to likely changes in harvesting costs and changes in grower returns if harvesting operational parameters are changed to minimise cane loss. In the Australian context, however, the population of the input databases is considered too onerous for likely users. This project will develop a database and integrated simple algorithms to allow users to populate the required crop characteristic inputs to the tool by the selection of variety, crop class, anticipated yield, maturity and production area.

    Accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture

    This cross-sectoral project established under the Rural R&D For Profit Program aims to:

    • (a) Enhance innovation of products, processes and practices through technologies such as robotics, digitisation, big data, genetics and precision agriculture (Advanced technology).
    • (b) Design a solution for the use of big data for all Australian agriculture industries.
    • (c) Increase trust and confidence in the adoption of advanced farming technologies.
    • (d) Inform producers, RDCs and government of policy options and operations framework for ownership, management and access to big data.
    • (e) Improved cross-sector industry research collaboration.

    Southern Sugar Solutions

    This project's specific research direction will be set on an annual basis by the project steering committee. The steering committee will be made up of growers, advisors and agronomists from the Maryborough, Childers and Bundaberg sugar factory cane supply districts. In the initial year two sugarcane trials will be established on sites that were initiated under the GRDC phase to determine treatment effect on the subsequent sugarcane cycle (plant and ratoon crops). In the following years of the project the steering committee will select one more GRDC trial site to be monitored through the sugarcane cycle. The trials will be showcased to the wider growing community at an annual field day event. The inclusion of growers, advisors and agronomists in the research process, together with the annual field day event is expected to improve knowledge transfer and adoption; thereby improving grower profitability.

    Sugar from space: improved data access, yield forecasting and targeted nitrogen application for the Australian sugar industry

    Efficient and effective nitrogen fertiliser management is a priority of the Australian sugar industry. This project aims to significantly increase access to remote sensing technologies, products and adoption protocols that will support the better implementation of developing nitrogen management strategies. Additionally this project will further develop yield forecasting models for over 95% of Australian growing regions. These models, derived from historic annual crop growth patterns, provide an accurate measure of current crop performance. At the mill level this information will indicate the spatial and temporal distribution of crop productivity, therefore supporting biosecurity and post-disaster monitoring, harvest scheduling, forward-selling decisions etc. At the grower level, yield forecasts will support improved in-crop management.

    Enhancing the sugar industry value chain by addressing mechanical harvest losses through research, technology and adoption

    This project established under the Rural R&D For Profit Program will improve sugar industry performance by undertaking a value-chain approach to the issue of cane harvesting, one of the largest industry problems. Specifically, the project will invest in extensive trial work to validate industry opinions, value chain modelling and economic analysis to quantify the problem, mechanical harvesting R&D-based modifications and new technology to improve in-field performance, software tools to improve farm and block specific harvesting practices, and a concerted adoption program to change industry beliefs and begin a process of substantive practice change.

    Key Focus Area 5

    Milling efficiency and technology

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

    Reducing the maintenance costs of mill rolls

    The aim of this project is to use plasma transfer arc welding to increase the durability and maintain the surface roughness of mill rolls to reduce their whole of life costs. It intends to develop a technique to apply a CSIRO high durability grey cast iron material to the grooved surface of a mill roll, to develop a technique to apply a tungsten carbide chip impregnated material to the grooved surface of a mill roll using plasma transfer arc welding and to determine the costs of applying the developed surface coating to mill rolls. It also intends to measure the durability and predict the life of the developed surface coating so as to assess the whole of life economics of mill rolls using the developed surface coating.

    A non-pneumatic cane cleaning system with no cane loss

    Trash in cane adds to costs and impacts negatively on the profitability of all sectors of the sugarcane industry. Pneumatic cane cleaners have previously been trialled for post-harvest cleaning of sugarcane in Australia and are used commercially overseas. This project aims to develop a non-pneumatic cane cleaner which minimises problems of dust, energy cost, and cane loss that may be associated with a pneumatic plant.

    Real time harvest and transport system

    The project aims to complete the development of a real time scheduling system (RTSS) for cane rail transport that will produce on-demand schedules throughout the day, implement RTSS fully in at least two traffic offices and establish the support system to enable RTSS to be implemented throughout the industry.

    Investigation into modifying pan boiling techniques to improve sugar quality

    Develop a blueprint for the introduction of new processing technologies for Australian factories

    Australian sugar factories are now among the least energy efficient in the world. Some of the technologies being used in energy-efficient factories overseas could be introduced into Australian factories to provide capacity and operational benefits. This project will determine a blueprint that defines the technologies that are most suited to adoption into Australian mills now, for our current operational objectives, and are well suited to providing major reductions in process steam consumption in the future.

    Online analysis systems to measure the available nutrients in mill mud

    By the end of the project an online NIR spectroscopic system will be developed to measure the availability and mobility of key nutrients in mill mud and ash mixtures as they leave the mill. This will be achieved by

    • Development of laboratory methods for measuring availability and mobility of key nutrients and carbon in mill by-products, and
    • Development of an online NIR spectroscopic analysis system suited to the analysis of mill mud and ash.

    Reducing boiler maintenance costs and deferring capital expenditure through improved technology

    Boiler tube wear and corrosion costs the industry about $5 million a year in repairs, stops and inefficient operation. This project aims to reduce boiler maintenance costs and defer capital expenditure through improved technology by identifying coatings that provide better wear performance than tube shields and extend the life of convection banks and that can be applied easily, applied on the internal surface of airheater tubes to prevent corrosion and extend the life of airheater units, and are readily available from commercial suppliers and installers.

    Evaporator liquor brix sensor

    The objective of this project is to test if Ultrasonic Time of Flight devices can operate successfully across the full range of (sugar) cane juice and liquor products, chemicals and water, which are processed through mill evaporators. It will evaluate the impact of fouling on the instrument sensor between fortnightly evaporator cleaning cycles, identify the introduction of bias, drift or loss of sensitivity and determine instrument recovery from these conditions. The team will test the hypothesis that Brix can be reliably measured in the range 20 to 80Bx (and establish lower and upper limits) through normal operation and staged calibration experiments including adverse conditions outside the normal operating envelope (down to 0 brix). On successful completion of this project, the Australian industry will be in a position to determine if Ultrasonic Time of Flight technology is suitable for adoption in cane sugar mills or refineries as an alternative to conductivity, brix towers, microwave and in line refractometers for the purposes of evaporator product density measurement and control.  ProMtec will also be in a position to use this data to reinforce or support the suitability of TOF technology for this purpose.

    Managing aspects of raw sugar quality in the Australian sugar industry – Part II

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

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

    Key Focus Area 6

    Product diversification and value addition

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

    Process for making bagasse paper pulp

    This project aims to demonstrate an economically viable small scale industrial process to produce high quality market bagasse pulp and good quality fertiliser as an attachment to an existing sugar mill. The overarching objective of the project is to evaluate and demonstrate an economical small scale process for producing high value market pulp and good quality fertiliser from bagasse. The laboratory and pilot investigations are aimed at demonstrating a potash-based pulping process which uses chemicals of very low net cost, as the spent chemicals can be converted to a fertiliser, negating the need for their recovery.

    A profitable future for Australian agriculture: biorefineries for higher-value animal feeds, chemicals and fuels

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

    Waste to Revenue: Novel fertilisers and feeds

    This project established under the Rural R&D For Profit Program will develop new waste treatment technologies to improve sustainability, productivity and profitability of primary industries. It will research the conversion of under-utilised and low value waste streams into innovative fertilisers and feeds that are balanced and have a higher economic and agronomic value.

    Key Focus Area 7

    Knowledge and technology transfer and adoption

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

    Measuring the profitability and environmental implications when growers transition to Best Management Practice (as defined by the new Canegrowers Smartcane BMP)

    The project will calculate the changes to profitability from BMP adoption in the Wet Tropics by investigating the range of costs and benefits that accrue to growers during the practice change process. It draws on different scenarios of growers that have implemented practice change to obtain data for actual revenue and production costs; taking into account capital expenditure to make the transition to BMP, annual farm production and cost data collected from growers chosen by a steering group.

    Sugar industry productivity and data recording spatial data hub for research and extension

    The sugar industry has been collecting information spatially (using Geographic Information Systems) for more than 20 years in some cases, and has considerable data that could be used for productivity analysis and biosecurity response. The productivity data is held by the mills in different formats and with varying levels of reliability. This project is converting the data fields to a common format, conducting data cleaning and applying quality indicators, and converting the block-level productivity data to a spatial format. These data will be supplied back to the mills for their own use and, at the mill's discretion, for provision to external agencies.

    Stimulating private sector extension in Australian agriculture to increase returns from R & D

    This cross-sectoral project established under the Rural R&D For Profit Program aims to increase the capacity of commercial and private-sector extension services to deliver research and development outputs that improve returns at the farm gate.

    Protecting our chemicals for the future through accelerated adoption of best management practice

    Protecting Our Chemicals for the Future aims to demonstrate the value of best management practices for chemical management on sugarcane farms in the Wet Tropics.

    The project works with small grower groups investigating both water quality and weed management outcomes from improved management practices such as banding and spot spraying of residual herbicides, use of PSII herbicide alternatives and best practice use of canegrub control products.

    This will be done through on-farm demonstrations and the use of water quality measurement tools such as a rainfall simulator and low cost event samplers.

    Growers involved will also be invited to put forward their own ideas on how chemical run-off from cane farms can be reduced and weed management can be optimised.

    Grower groups will be formed in the Mulgrave, Babinda-Innisfail and Tully areas with a total of 24 groups formed over three years (2016–2018).

    The project is a collaborative effort, with SRA, EHP, IBCPS, TCPS, Bayer, Crop Care, JCU, Tully Sugar and QDAF coming together to address the twin issues of best management of weeds and pests and improving water quality in the Wet Tropics.

    Master classes in soil health/soil biology for the sugar industry

    Soil health is an important component of any farming business and provides the foundation for a productive and sustainable farming system.  One aspect of soil health that is often overlooked and yet is incredibly important is soil biology.  This project aims to improve sugarcane grower’s knowledge of soil biology and soilborne diseases and provide them with a holistic understanding of the management practices required to improve the health of their soils.

    The project team includes experts who offer a range of experiences from the research, extension and grower points of view. The masterclasses will be practical, hands on and specific to regional conditions.  Each participant will develop a soil health action plan that they can then implement and monitor over time, with assistance from regional productivity services staff and SRA Adoption Officers.

    The masterclasses will be delivered in Ingham, Mackay and Ballina in 2017 and in Far North Queensland, Ayr and Bundaberg in 2018.

    Productivity improvements through energy innovation in the Australian sugar industry

    The project will have the following objectives;

    1. Provide analysis and suggestions to the SRA adoption team to improve output per kw of electricity (or litre of diesel) in production systems from when results become available to the end of the project term in year 3.
    2. As incorporating renewable technology is early stage, present an economically viable business case to industry with the view to a small number of farmer adoption prior to the end of term.
    3. 60 per cent of growers are made aware of available options to improve energy efficiency and incorporate renewable energy or battery technology into their production systems at the end of year 3.
    4. SRA adoption team experience increased capacity on the use of innovative energy efficiency measure at the end of the project term.

    Key Focus Area 8

    Collaboration and capability development

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

    Investigation of genetic control of sugar accumulation within the sugarcane culm (stalk)

    Soil nitrogen dynamics – a microdialysis approach to quantify nitrogen cycling in sugarcane soils

    Statistical data mining algorithms for optimising analysis of spectroscopic data from on-line NIR mill systems: improving system calibrations for quality measures and variety discrimination

    Integrated standardised competency based training for sugar milling operators

    This project will establish an appropriate learning management system (LMS) to act as a single training resource for Australian sugar industry training. It will develop a standard format for training packages and setup within the LMS, catering for operators and supervisors having no previous sugar experience through to a high level of sugar technology skills.
    The project will map the training packages to the AgriFoods FDF10 knowledge competencies and develop assessment instruments to these same competencies. It will develop specific training packages for high-grade fugalling, sugar drying, low-grade fugalling and cooling crystallisation, using existing training materials where possible and developing new content if needed.