Sweet prospects for new in­dus­try

Tasmanian Country - - NEWS -

IR­RI­GATED crop grow­ers could see a sweet new in­dus­try de­velop in south­ern Aus­tralia if variety tri­als planned for next year pro­duce good yields and mar­gins.

Ger­man ge­net­ics com­pany KWS will run tri­als of five sugar-beet va­ri­eties in two lo­ca­tions in Tas­ma­nia as well as in Vic­to­ria.

The idea is to eval­u­ate the agro­nomic and eco­nomic per­for­mance of the sugar beets for in­dus­trial sugar pro­duc­tion in south­ern Aus­tralia.

This comes as po­lit­i­cal pressure mounts on sug­ar­cane grow­ers in north­ern Aus­tralia be­cause of con­cerns over runoff and po­ten­tial dam­age to the Great Bar­rier Reef.

The cat­a­lyst of the tri­als was re­search work done by Tas­ma­nian Nuffield scholar and first­gen­er­a­tion farmer Robert Arvier.

Mr Arvier has a 200ha ir­ri­gated crop­ping prop­erty in Tas­ma­nia and also works in Mel­bourne and Europe ad­vis­ing the sugar in­dus­try about en­vi­ron­men­tal com­pli­ance.

Mr Arvier said there had once been a boom­ing sugar beet in­dus­try in Vic­to­ria but “no one could tell me why there isn’t now”.

He said sugar com­pa­nies were now in­ter­ested in sourc­ing prod­uct in south­ern Aus­tralia to “shorten the sup­ply chain”, par­tic­u­larly for mo­lasses prod­ucts in­clud­ing agri­cul­tural feed­stuffs.

Mr Arvier said sugar beet was be­ing grown for sugar pro­duc­tion prof­itably in Chile and Europe.

“All the tech­nol­ogy is avail­able now, we don’t need to de­velop any­thing,” he said.

Mr Arvier said his Nuffield stud­ies sug­gested sugar beet could be grown un­der ir­ri­ga­tion for prof­its com­pa­ra­ble with other root veg­eta­bles – “even at to­day’s [low] sugar price” – and could also pro­vide po­ten­tial grow­ers with an­other crop-ro­ta­tion op­tion.

“The next steps are agro­nomic tri­als of five va­ri­eties in Tas­ma­nia and Vic­to­ria next year,” Mr Arvier said.

“We know fod­der beet [for an­i­mal feed] al­ready ex­ists in Vic­to­ria and grows well so the knowl­edge is there and we don’t ex­pect sugar beet to be much dif­fer­ent.

“We need to have repli­cated tri­als across a range of districts; th­ese new va­ri­eties have not been grown in Aus­tralia be­fore.”

Mr Arvier said ini­tially the sugar beet would be chipped and fed to cat­tle.

If the variety tri­als were suc­cess­ful, KWS would move to larger field tri­als, he said. If the fol­low-up tri­als were suc­cess­ful, in­vest­ment in pro­cess­ing would be re­quired to take the in­dus­try to the next stage. TRI­ALS ON WAY: Tas­ma­nian Robert Arvier has stud­ied grow­ing sugar beet in south­ern Aus­tralia.

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