Tully Sugar Industry – Planting Time – Clean Seed

TCPSL staff Peter Sutherland, Ilanah Baston, and Noel Lingard

One of the major factors involved in planting a new cane crop is making sure it is free of a disease known as Ratoon Stunting Disease or RSD. As we have mentioned many times before, RSD is common to all sugarcane areas in Australia and is caused by bacteria known by the fancy name of clavivater xylem Leifsonia xyli subsp. xyli

This disease causes the stunting of cane and subsequent yield loss, particularly in older ratoon crop, hence its names. It may also affect plant cane if diseased material is used for planting. 

This disease is definitely a case of prevention being the best cure. We know the disease lives in the cane juice and can be spread by anything with which the juice comes into contact. Mainly cane knives, plant cutters, planters, fertiliser boxes, and harvesters.

 It is also common for older cane or cane that has grown back after a crop has been sprayed out with chemical to have RSD (such cane is known as ‘volunteer cane’).

There are some key strategies that the sugarcane industry has developed over a long period of time to manage this disease. The strategies are based on research undertaken by BSES and SRA and these are being implemented and promoted  right now in Tully, mainly through the efforts of Tully Cane Productivity Services. (TCPSL).

  1. Maintain clean equipment to stop the spread of infected juice. This means cane knives and any other equipment should be sprayed with a mixture of methylated spirits (70%) and water (30%) or a commercial sterilizing agent as a 1% solution.
  2. Clean seed plots – Cane that is used for planting is treated by a process known as hot water treating (HWT). This involves placing the cane in a large tank of water, heated to 50 degrees Celsius for 3 hours. TCPSL organize this process, which for the last decade or so has been done using the large HWT tanks based at Victoria Mill and run by our neighbours, Herbert Cane Productivity Services. The cane plants treated through this process are then planted in a large “Mother plot” at Merryburn, from which a series of “clean seed plots” are established for growers to access seed cane in the following year.

In 2021, TCPSL is setting up a new small Hot water treatment plant in Tully to add further to our ability to Hot Water Treat cane.

  1. TCPSL also establish these clean seed plots using a new process known as “Tissue culture” where small pieces of new varieties are used to produce clean seedlings in a laboratory. This is an ideal method to obtain larger quantities of the new varieties.
  1.  TCPSL also provides a service to growers known as Plant Source Inspections (PSI), where cane is sampled in the field and sent away for analysis. If the test comes back free of RSD, the cane can be  used for planting.

With planting delayed by the wet weather up until mid-July, the demand for cane seed testing is still occurring. TCPSL has welcomed a new staff member, Ilanah Baston. Ilanah has really hit the ground running and is busy helping with the RSD testing and planting distribution plots.

RSD is always something that needs to be managed, and locally our TCPSL staff do a great job doing just that.

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