The Australian sugarcane industry is one of the nation’s biggest rural industries.
Queensland’s largest agricultural crop saw over 125,000 hectares harvested in the Herbert and Burdekin region in 2017, with more than 13 million tonnes of cane crushed, playing a significant role in the almost $2 billion generated in export earnings for Queensland.
In a potential game changer for the industry, Wilmar Sugar and Sugar Research Australia (SRA) have successfully developed a new variety of sugarcane that could see our region’s farmers achieve yield improvements of up to two tonnes more sugar per hectare, meaning more money in our grower’s back pockets.
The new variety, named ‘WSRA17’ after its joint developers, is the first to carry the ‘WSRA’ prefix since the naming convention for new sugarcane varieties changed in 2015.
Wilmar’s contribution to the variety through its early-stage breeding program synchronises with SRA’s breeding program as potential new varieties continue to make their way toward the Final Assessment Trial (FAT) stage.
According to Wilmar Sugar Technical Field Officer Mr Terry Morgan, the WSRA17 variety had shown promise in both field trials and throughout its development, and was unique because both parents were commercial varieties that had been created in the Burdekin.
WSRA17’s parents are ‘Q208’ and ‘Tellus’, Q208 being the most popular Australian variety in 2017, representing an impressive 30 per cent of the entire Australian sugarcane crop.
“WSRA17 is unusual because it came from a cross that occurred under field conditions in a block of commercial cane,” Mr Morgan explained. “We grew in excess of 3000 seedlings from the cross, and that is where this new variety came from.”
SRA Variety Officer for the Burdekin, Ms Catherine Kettle, said WSRA17 has so far produced good tonnage per hectare in trials when compared to standard commercial varieties (Q183, Q208 and KQ228).
Burdekin Productivity Services Manager, Mr Rob Milla, said from the data that has been seen to date, this new variety had good commercial prospects due to its yield performance and leaf scald resistance.
Mr Milla also stated that the local industry would continue to monitor WSRA17’s response to smut in the Burdekin, which had so far been reasonable. This local response has seen the Burdekin Regional Variety Committee approve the release of the variety, while noting the importance of continuing to monitor the variety’s response to smut.
Wilmar General Manager Agriculture, Ian Davies, said Wilmar was committed to improving productivity across its milling regions and the wider sugar industry.
“We make a considerable investment in developing new cane varieties for the Australian sugar industry through our plant breeding program,” he said.
“The varieties that have come through our breeding program contribute about 20 per cent of the cane produced in Australia each year.”
WSRA17 could be available to local growers by 2020 and will go a long way to ensuring our region continues to play its part in keeping Australian sugar competitive on the global market.