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Scientists grow drought-tolerant sugarcane

Marty McCarthy, Monday September 2, 2013 - 12:21 EST
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Cane growing in north Queensland. - ABC

Scientists in north Queensland are a step closer to developing a type of sugarcane that needs less water to grow.

The project started in 2006 and is now being managed by Sugar Research Australia.

SRA says there's money to be saved in developing drought-tolerant cane, because dry weather costs the Australian sugar industry $260 million annually.

Principal scientist Prakash Lakhmanan says the project involves cross-breeding different varieties of cane.

"The result so far are encouraging," he said.

"We're identifying the characteristic that transfer drought-tolerance in sugarcane," he said.

"We have generated a lot of data showing that some of the sugarcane lines have the desired attributes that could be used to develop sugarcane for water-limited production conditions."

Despite Australia's cane growing regions being in high rainfall areas, Dr Lakhmanan says there's still a need for cane that relies on less water.

"If you look at historical data, recurring water deficiency is a common issue every 30 years or even every alternate year," he said.

"You get significant water deficit in substantial areas of Australia's sugar production.

"It is a significant issue economically."

Dr Lakhmanan says he's learning from similar research done into other crops, such as grain. However, despite the advances, there's still a way to go before a product can be developed and sold commercially.

"We need to evaluate [drought tolerant traits] in several different production scenarios," Dr Lakhmanan said.

"Once we get a good feel for that, and that traits we're targeting are the right ones, we can pass it on to breeders."


© ABC 2013

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