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Better sugarcane varieties for growers and millers

Sugarcane growers and millers will be the beneficiaries of significant enhancements to the way Australian sugarcane varieties are created.

Sugar Research Australia (SRA) is the lead organisation that develops new cane varieties and has just announced these new enhancements to its process for creating sugarcane varieties, which will target improved profitability for sugarcane growers and millers.

“SRA has set the ambitious goal of delivering a 2 percent improvement in annual genetic gain for new sugarcane varieties,” said SRA CEO, Mr Neil Fisher.

“To put that goal into context, the global average gain for wheat breeding is 1 percent per annum, and the global average for sugarcane is less than 1 percent.

“But we have set this 2 percent target based on feedback from the industry that new varieties must continue to offer meaningful improvements and improve profitability for our grower and miller investors.”

Mr Fisher said this process will be led by Key Focus Area Leader, Dr Jason Eglinton, who is one of Australia’s leading plant breeders and was recently appointed at SRA. Dr Eglinton reviewed the current breeding program and the SRA Board has endorsed his recommendations for a series of enhancements.

These include:

  • Reducing the number of parent plants and crosses that are used to create new varieties. This will allow an increase in the size of high leverage (high value) populations of plants, but reduce the total number of populations
  • Decreasing the proportion of original seedlings with defective traits by using modern breeding tools such as molecular markers
  • Increasing variety trial precision
  • Applying earlier screening for smut and Pachymetra
  • More precisely select for sugar content by measuring sugarcane maturity
  • Piloting fast-track selection schemes including the use of tissue culture in place of traditional propagation
  • Using wild relatives of sugarcane to focus on challenging traits with the first target being ratoon crop performance
  • Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of research engagement and adoption
  • Establishing lead indicators as the basis for performance measures and developing a dashboard appropriate for regular management and Board reporting.

Mr Fisher said that this represented a significant investment of an additional $4 million over the next seven years, which reinforced the development of new commercial varieties as the single largest investment that SRA makes on behalf of investors.

“By setting the 2 percent goal, and defining a clear strategy to target that goal, we are laying the foundation for ongoing improvement in the breeding program, ultimately leading to a more sustainable Australian sugarcane industry and more profitable growers and millers.”

Source: Sugar Research Australia

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