Wet Tropics sugarcane media release: Hidden sugarcane disease stealing industry profits

Hidden sugarcane disease stealing industry profits

The Far North Queensland sugarcane industry is joining together to combat the bacterial disease, ratoon stunting disease (RSD).

The disease has been known to growers, millers, and researchers for more than 70 years, but it continues to cost the industry through lost production and requires ongoing vigilance and management.

Sugar Research Australia Adoption Officer, Mr Gavin Rodman, based at Meringa station near Gordonvale said: “RSD is something that can be managed by using disease-free planting material, keeping blocks free of volunteer cane from the previous crop and by maintaining good machinery hygiene practices.

“Unfortunately, some of these practices are no longer being followed religiously, which has led to a dramatic increase in infected cane throughout a large part of the Wet Tropics. Some mill areas within the Wet Tropics are reporting positive infections in 30 percent of blocks tested.

“The cane that is being tested for use as planting material is meant to be the best cane we have. It is scary to think about what sort of numbers we are talking about when it comes to infection within commercial blocks.

“Specialised methodology and lab analysis is required to diagnose the disease. The days of slicing open a stalk and looking for the disease in the field or under a microscope are gone. We know that these methods unacceptably underestimate infection.

“If RSD is present, there is a good chance you are losing significant yield.”

Cane productivity services organisations from Tully, Innisfail, Babinda, Mulgrave, Mossman and Canegrowers Tableland, MSF Sugar and SRA have teamed up to tackle the issue.

MSF Sugar Mulgrave Field Officer, Mr Matt Hession, said RSD was one of the easiest diseases to spread but also one of the hardest to manage.

“Mulgrave growers have been very conscientious about RSD in the past and this is evident in our low infection rate,” Mr Hession said.

“However, as milling companies and contractors begin to operate across productivity boundaries attention again needs to focus on farm hygiene.

“Volunteer cane, dirty machinery and out of area cane purchases will continue to risk the reintroduction of RSD to disease-free parts of the district.”

Innisfail Babinda Cane Productivity Services Manager and Field Officer, Ms Bianca Spannagle, said RSD had fallen under the radar due to a combination of factors, with the industry on the Cassowary Coast heavily affected by RSD.

“In the great rush of late season finishes, larger agri-farming and the general increased pace of the sugar industry, some growers and contractors have forgotten the fundamental steps to achieving increased productivity and, therefore, increased profitability for our local industry,” Ms Spannagle said.

Growers and contractors are encouraged to implement stringent on-farm hygiene controls and introduce clean seed onto farms to help minimise the spread of RSD.