Sweet prospects for new industry
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.