BSES senior research officer Shamsul Bhuiyan investigates smut-infected cane at the Bundaberg research station.
BSES senior research officer Shamsul Bhuiyan investigates smut-infected cane at the Bundaberg research station. Letea Cavander

Cane smut a national challenge

A RESEARCHER has praised the region’s growers for their swift reaction to combat the spread of cane smut, with a huge drop in the amount of susceptible cane grown here.

BSES senior research officer Shamsul Bhuiyan said since the fungus was discovered on a Childers farm in 2006, growers had been quick to move to smut-resistant varieties.

Three years ago, about 80% of cane in the area was susceptible to smut, where as now only about 25% of the cane in the area are among the most susceptible to the fungus.

At a microscopic level, smut spores look like individual circles with a light brown outline and a dot in the middle of a darker brown circle.

Those tiny shapes have the capacity to bring the cane-growing industry to its knees.

Mr Bhuiyan said the ability for the fungus to travel on the wind, exist in hot, dry conditions and flourish in wet weather, made it one of the most challenging diseases the cane industry had faced.

“It is one of the biggest threats for the industry, because it affects production and yield,” he said.

The discovery of the disease about a month ago in northern New South Wales meant smut had spread to every cane growing region in the country.

When Kelvin Grissin discovered smut on his 70ha Seaview Road cane farm, he said at least he knew it was coming.

“We’ll live with it, manage it and hopefully we won’t have any more threats like it for quite a number of years,” he said.

The farmer said he was also hopeful future varieties of smut-resistant cane could also produce the same amount of sugar as the varieties that were declared susceptible when the outbreak occurred.

Isis Canegrowers chairman Joe Russo said, that in the Isis district, less than 5% of the cane crop grown was Q205 — one of the varieties most likely to be destroyed by the fungus.

“Smut is still there, but it’s nowhere near what it was years ago,” Mr Russo said.



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