Super crops

Dupont scientist Dr Richard Broglie and CEO of CRC Peter Twine discuss the opportunity for using biotechnology in sugar cane production.
Dupont scientist Dr Richard Broglie and CEO of CRC Peter Twine discuss the opportunity for using biotechnology in sugar cane production. Darryn Smith

BUNDABERG growers could be planting genetically-modified sugar cane in as little as five years as scientists work behind the scenes to produce a super crop.

Leading sugar experts will hand down biotechnology breakthroughs this week at the Australian Society of Sugar Cane Technologists annual conference in Bundaberg.

At the forefront of the push for genetically-modified cane is the Bundaberg and Brisbane-based company BSES, which has entered into a partnership with multinational biotechnology company Dupont.

BSES chief executive officer Eoin Wallis said the move would revolutionise the cane industry with scientists working to produce drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, high-yield and low-cost super varieties.

“It’s the dawn of a very exciting time for the industry and will mean new horizons open up that we are yet to explore,” he said.

Worldwide there has been a proliferation of genetically modified crops with 134 million hectares of hybrid corn, canola, soy beans and cotton planted.

The BSES enterprise, however, will be the first time a plant propagated by cuttings rather than seeds has been genetically modified for commercial purposes.

“It will prove to be more difficult than most crops because of its complex genetic make-up, but there are promising signs,” Dr Wallis said.

BSES will spend about $5 million on the project this year, with a further $35 million expected to be invested into the technology over the next five years.

Dr Wallis said the end result of the world first project would be priceless for cane growers.

“This is an important tool farmers can use to improve and increase probability,” he said.

“We’re talking higher-yield crops produced with less costs, so the advantages are obvious.”

Dr Wallis said the technology would also produce more environmentally friendly cane farms with scientists working on varieties which are resistant to pests and use nitrogen more efficiently, reducing the need for harmful chemicals.

The Australian Society of Sugar Cane Technologists conference will continue till Friday.

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