Fight steps up against cane virus

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - Shane Ni­chols

AN out­break in New Guinea of a sugar cane virus now en­trenched in Asia has put Aus­tralian re­searchers on high alert.

Sugar Cane Streak Mo­saic Virus (SCSMV), which can cut crop yields by 20 to 30 per cent, has be­come en­trenched in parts of In­done­sia.

It has been on the list of threats for Sugar Re­search Aus­tralia for some time but the new case in West Pa­pua, so close to our bor­ders, means SRA re­searchers are up­ping their ef­forts to un­der­stand the dis­ease.

“We’ve taken the view that we need to know what is beyond our shores and iden­tify the most im­por­tant threats and then do the nec­es­sary re­search so that if it was to ever en­ter our coun­try we would be equipped to deal with it,” said SRA prin­ci­pal re­searcher Rob Ma­gary.

Of great in­ter­est to the re­searchers is to ex­plore how our lo­cal va­ri­eties of cane would re­act to the dis­ease, how the virus spreads, and how to quickly di­ag­no­sis it.

“We’ve got a project in In­done­sia on this threat so we can work out our re­sponse,” he said.

It in­cludes the de­vel­op­ment of man­age­ment strate­gies aimed at lim­it­ing dam­age and loss of in­come.

At the first sight­ing on our shores SRA would like to know the chances of erad­i­cat­ing it at the point of in­fec­tion.

Mr Ma­gary said the virus had only been iden­ti­fied in the ’90s.

In some parts of Asia, 100 per cent of crops were af­fected by it.

In­done­sia wants to ex­pand its sugar in­dus­try and one of the new sites is West Pa­pua.

The stakes are high for an in­dus­try in which mar­gins are tight.

“If we lost 20 per cent of our yield it would mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween profit and loss,” Mr Ma­gary said.

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