New sugar research chief at 'the edge of innovation'
FROM developing newer, hardier and better varieties of cane to big data and robots, the future is full of opportunities for the sugar industry's newest research leader.
Sugar Research Australia has announced the appointment of Dr Frikkie Botha to lead its research division as executive manager, technology, within the industry-owned company.
Dr Botha comes to the role with an extensive Australian and international career in sugarcane research, spanning more than 35 years.
He has previously been SRA's executive manager, strategic initiatives, and he has held previous roles in the Australian industry at the Queensland Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations and the Sugar Research and Development Corporation.
He is also a former managing director of the South African Sugarcane Research Institute, a director of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology, and professor of plant biotechnology at the Universities of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Stellenbosch.
He is currently an honorary professor at the University of Queensland and executive member of the International Society of Sugarcane Technologists.
"Dr Botha is well known and respected within the Australian sugarcane industry and has an extensive scientific record,” SRA CEO Neil Fisher said.
"His skills as a leader will assist SRA's scientists to continue to deliver valued solutions for a growing sugarcane industry.”
Dr Botha, who also oversees the SRA Yellow Canopy Syndrome research program, said he looked forward to working with SRA's researchers to drive profitability and productivity for sugarcane growers and millers.
"The single biggest area of investment for SRA is plant breeding and the development of new sugarcane varieties for the industry,” Dr Botha said.
"In addition, SRA research also extends across other critical focus areas including soil health and nutrient management; pest, disease and weed management; farming systems and production management; milling efficiency and technology; knowledge and technology transfer and adoption; and capability development, attraction and retention.
"There is a vast range of exciting research opportunities on the horizon for sugarcane growers and millers, including big data, robots and automation, molecular plant breeding, plus numerous others.
"SRA is working to ensure that these and other opportunities provide useful value for growers and millers, and to position the industry at the leading edge of innovation.”
SRA has also welcomed a mechanical engineer who began his career at the Isis Central Sugar Mill to its team of research and adoption staff.
Joseph Bonassi is based at SRA's Ingham research station alongside adoption officer Phil Patane.
Their research is part of a significant investment into sugarcane harvest efficiency through the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources' Rural R and D for Profit program.
The James Cook University graduate is an Ingham local very familiar with the sugarcane industry.
"Joseph has previously completed work placement at the Isis Central Sugar Mill through a Sugar Research Institute scholarship in 2015, as well as placements with Wilmar in the Burdekin and in the Herbert,” Mr Fisher said.
"Improving harvest efficiency requires a collaborative effort and it is exciting to come to SRA to work in an area where there is such strong interest from all of the industry to achieve results,” Mr Bonassi said.
"It has been previously estimated that harvest losses could cost the industry up to $150 million per year, so there is massive potential to recapture that lost value for the industry.”