ON FIRE: Sugarcane burning ahead of harvesting at Woodburn.
ON FIRE: Sugarcane burning ahead of harvesting at Woodburn. Samantha Elley

Research could reduce cane burning

CANE fires are often seen burning across the Northern Rivers, but new research could provide innovative solutions to reduce the need for sugarcane burning.

High-yielding sugarcane crops in NSW are burnt because of their size, the two-year crop cycle and because the soils and climate do not allow the sugarcane trash to break-down into the soil.

But Sunshine Sugar chief executive Chris Connors said the industry was looking for proactive solutions to reduce the need to burn.

"We don't want to burn, the growers don't want to burn and we know that the community does not want us to burn. But at the moment we have no choice," he said.

The new research, being conducted by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and funded by Sugar Research Australia (SRA), is looking at ways that the whole crop could be brought to the mill.

The research is looking at a new method of cleaning the cane by removing the trash and other impurities after harvest, but before it enters the mill.

It would use less energy and can work in wet or dry conditions.

Mr Connors said the research was an "important piece of a broader puzzle that needed to be solved".

The next step would require a look at the logistics of moving cane around that had much more trash, as this was a lighter and less efficient load.

There was also the important step of harnessing the best value from the trash.

"Sunshine Sugar has a keen interest in that side of it, because we are still of the view that we want to take all of the crop in," Mr Connors said.

"There is this crop sitting out there where we are throwing so much away and only taking the stalk in the middle.

"There is another 25% of material there that we can do something with."

SRA chief executive Neil Fisher said the research had useful implications for both growers and millers.

"It has positive implications for the farming system and its efficiency, and also for product diversification and value-adding," he said.

"It has strong collaborations between QUT and Sunshine Sugar in NSW, and it also will deliver practical and useful outcomes for the entire Australian sugarcane industry."



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