Research Portfolio

Key Focus Area 1

Variety Development

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.

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.

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.

Validating root system traits for enhanced nutrient capture in challenging environments

Roots are one of the biggest consumers of energy within a sugarcane plant, yet information on their function and structure has, until recently, been limited because of the size of the plant and the opaque nature of the soil. These projects are building on recent research that has seen the research team gather practical information on sugarcane root systems and examine specific issues including anatomy, the structure, varietal differences, and the roots’ response to different stress situations.

Genetic analysis and marker delivery for sugarcane breeding

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

Validating high-throughput phenomics technologies for sugarcane clonal selection

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


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.

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


Complete nutrient management planning for cane farming

The major objectives of this project are:

• Engage 90 farms over 2 years to influence practice change from current nitrogen levels used, to using SIX EASY STEPS level (C practice).
• Results will be promoted across the Burdekin to increase knowledge and confidence in SIX EASY STEPS methodology, enable the changing of social norms in the catchment as well as raising expectations the community has of its cane farmers (to follow SIX EASY STEPS)
• Both will contribute to improved water quality outcomes in the Burdekin catchment

Improved water quality outcomes from on-farm nitrogen management

The major objectives of this project are:

• Establish two new small-plot experiments in second ratoon crops on a well-drained and poorly drained soil in the Tully mill area
• Measure biomass, yield and N uptake of second ratoon and third ratoon crops

• Evaluate the impact of different N input calculation methodology (DYP vs PUYP) on productivity, profitability and NUE
• Identify benefits of adopting the use of Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers in the Wet Tropics

Cane farmer trials of enhanced efficiency fertiliser in the catchments of the Great Barrier Reef (EEF60)

The major objectives of this project are:

• Conduct 60 robust, controlled and replicated trials per season (180 trial years of data) to assess nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) performance across regions
• Assess environmental losses (run-off, deep drainage) at 6 of the 60 sites
• Develop farm nutrient management plans with engaged growers to improve nutrient management
• Identify where Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers (EEFs) have potential to improve NUE
• Provide information on growers perceptions on issues likely to affect EEF adoption

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 supporting 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

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

The project will develop a cost effective digital soil mapping framework to provide farmers and advisors with tools to map, manage and monitor the variability in soil properties to improve cane yield and reduce off-site impacts. The research will use DUALEM and gamma-ray spectroscopy to map individual soil properties (e.g.clay, CEC, salinity), and ancillary data such as elevation and crop yield information to identify soil management zones that may be responsive to ameliorants like gypsum application or lime. Four case studies will be developed for the Herbert, Mossman, Proserpine and Burdekin regions demonstrating the impact of ‘causal” factors of soil variation that effect crop yield.

Establishing sugarcane farming systems to improve soil health

This project seeks to improve the issue of soil health.

In order to address these issues new practices that complement the modern farming system (green cane trash blanker, controlled traffic, fallow cropping and reduced tillage) need to be explored. These practices need to deliver an improvement to soil carbon and biological condition in a profitable sugarcane production system.

The project will assess whether improvements to sugarcane soil condition can be achieved through practical management practices that provide additional organic inputs, different types of organic matter and diversity in terms of root systems and associated biology.

Development of commercial molecular biological assays for improved sugarcane soil health and productivity

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

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

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

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.

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.

Modern diagnostics for a safer Australian Sugar Industry

The major objectives of this project are:

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

Ratoon stunting disease detection at the sugar factory

Development for an improved commercial assay for ratoon stunting disease (RSD)

The project seeks to research and extend a new RSD assay to the sugarcane industry based on a leaf sheath biopsy, coupled with a sensitive molecular test (qPCR).

The aim will be to adapt the test to commercial conditions, providing a more sensitive RSD assay technology ready for application in the SRA RSD assay laboratory.

The project will also address field sampling techniques in order to minimise the chance of cross contamination, reduce labour inputs while maximising the probability of RSD detection in commercial crops. Refined leaf sheath sample extraction techniques and equipment may be an outcome.

It is likely that such an assay will highlight to a greater extent the role of RSD in limiting yield in the Australian sugarcane industry.

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.

Cane farmer trials of enhanced efficiency fertiliser in the catchments of the Great Barrier Reef

This project is designed to identify whether Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers (EEFs) can provide a significant increase in nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and reduction in nitrogen losses, resulting in a more profitable farming business.
The project will include 60 controlled and replicated field trials, conducted over 3 seasons, including 30 in the wet tropics, 15 in the Burdekin, 10 in the Central and 5 in the Southern regions.
These trials will provide information on the effect of EEFs in terms of TCH, CCS, NUE and their effect on grower profitability. Environmental losses (run‐off and deep drainage) will be assessed at 6 of the 60 sites.

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.

Improved irrigation system selection and operation for increased sugarcane productivity and profitability

Irrigation management is critical to the profitability and economic sustainability of Australia’s 166,000 hectares of irrigated sugarcane. The link between water and crop productivity is more direct and more predictable than for other environmental variables.

This projects will significantly improve irrigation decisions currently made by cane producers.

This project seeks to :

• 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 with between program training and technical support.
• Lift the 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, though development of case studies, information sheets, a handbook and ready-reckoner tools to support irrigation system selection, design and operation

Harvester losses assessment by real-time Machine Vision Systems

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

Smarter Irrigation for Profit - Phase 2

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.

Investigation into modifying pan boiling techniques to improve sugar quality

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.

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.

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

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


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

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

Evaluate the performance of the falling film tube evaporator at Bingera Mill

Evaluate the suitability of the fixed element crystalliser for widespread adoption in Australian sugar factories

Reducing surging in shredders

Environmental risk assessment and life cycle assessment of raw sugar manufacturing

This project is occurring in two stages over two years:

Stage 1: Environmental risk assessment of the sugarcane value chain

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

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

a. Market regulation and trade restrictions

b. Foregone price premiums or penalty for non-compliance

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluating the suitability of two mud level sensing technologies for juice clarifiers

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

Increased sugar recovery through improved mill sanitation and biocide application

Investigating the corrosivity of evaporator condensates and the contributing factors

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.

Biorefineries for Profit - Phase 2

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

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.

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.

Pathways to water quality improvements in the Myrtle Creek sub catchment (Funding provider: Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science)

The project contributes to Reef Plan objectives to reduce nitrogen run-off by 80%, and achieve at least 60% reduction in pesticides, by 2025. Specifically, the project will contribute towards achieving the 70% reduction of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and in meeting the 99% species protection threshold for pesticides, in the Proserpine catchment.

Cane to Creek 2.0

This project expands the original Cane to Creek project to new regions of the Australian sugarcane industry from Mossman to the Burdekin.

Funding provider: Partnership between Australian Government Reef Trust, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, with support from SRA.

Reviving GrubPlan to ensure appropriate use and application of imidacloprid for control of cane grubs

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

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.

Combining controlled release and nitrification inhibitor properties to deliver improved fertiliser nitrogen use efficiency in high risk environments

Development and modelling of novel controlled release fertilisers for improved nutrient delivery efficiency

Re-evaluating the biology of the sugarcane root system

Microwave sensors for sugarcane sugar analysis

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

Characterising nitrogen use efficiency in sugarcane

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

Improved strategies to process soft canes

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

A new high throughput method for screening for root-knot and root-lesion nematode resistance in sugarcane

Enhancing the resilience of sugarcane with photoactive carbon nanodots

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