Growers told smut threat not over

SUGARCANE farmers on the North Coast would be ‘very wrong’ to think smut disease won’t affect them, the industry’s peak group has warned.

Canegrowers’ chief executive Ian Ballantyne said they expected the disease to peak next year and remain a major problem throughout 2011.

Last month, following the discovery of smut at a Condong farm on the Tweed, the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative said it did not expect smut to cause any production losses in Northern NSW.

The co-op’s manager of agricultural services, Rick Beattie, said they were ‘well prepared’ to ward off a crisis.

“We knew it was coming ... but we reckon we’re on top of it,” he told The Northern Star at the time.

However, Mr Ballantyne said smut’s effects on profitability should not be underestimated.

“There are heavy concentrations of sugarcane smut across all cane growing areas, and it is having a huge impact on those cane farms affected with the disease,” he said. “It has caused substantial loss of production in other areas. However, Northern NSW is in a better position.

“But it would be very wrong for people to think that smut won’t be a problem.

“The best defence is replanting with smut-resistant varieties, and to the industry’s credit, to the extent that these varieties have been available, the growers have taken them up with gusto.”

However, Mr Ballantyne has warned against complacency.

“The ongoing impact should not be dismissed, nor the disease announced as ‘cured’,” he said.

Mr Ballantyne said Canegrowers was concerned about productivity losses and ‘large scale additional costs’ associated with replanting smut-resistant varieties of sugarcane.

New crops would take time to grow, so there was a possibility growers could miss out on the ‘unusually high prices’ available at present, he said. “The industry is buoyed by the stronger prices available for sugar on the international market, on to which over 80 per cent of Australia’s raw sugar is sold,” Mr Ballantyne said.

“But it is important to remember that growers have been and will continue to bear the cost of the smut disease through lost productivity and increased costs.

“Every dollar spent on smut management is a dollar growers don’t have to upgrade machinery or take up new technologies.”



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