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It’s time to test seed cane for planting again

Posted by Ellie McVeigh

Press release: Monday 30 January 2023

HCPSL will start seed cane inspections for growers tomorrow (Tuesday 31 January) for all Herbert growers. This year things will be done a little differently. HCPSL will be using three different methods of testing this season.

SRA’s Molecular Plant Pathologist Dr Chuong Ngo and Translational Research Pathologist Dr Rob Magarey visited HCPSL on 24 January to train HCPSL staff on the new Ratoon Stunting Disease (RSD) testing method called leaf sheaf biopsies (LSB).

A core (otherwise called a leaf punch) is taken from the leaf sheath of the cane plant, mixed with distilled water, and then sent off to the laboratory for analysis. The RSD bacteria weeps from the leaf punch into the distilled water over a few hours and is then analysed.

Photo above – Dr Chuong Ngo, Molecular Plant Pathologist, presents  at the HCPSL training day.

This sampling method is just as accurate as the expressed xylem sap method and both use the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) test that was made available to growers two years ago by HCPSL. However, the LSB method is more efficient in the field for collection of samples. It can also be done earlier in the year that phase contrast microscopy (PCM) method. The PCM (microscope) method will still be made available to growers, but this method can be less accurate when detecting RSD than LSB and qPCR.

HCPSL staff will only be testing cane that will be used for planting in 2023. Growers will only be permitted to sample one block/variety for every 20 ha farmed. This ruling has been put in place to allow HCPSL staff to get across all farms. There will be no charge for Herbert growers using the seed inspection service.

Growers who wish to undertake a whole of farm RSD survey will be invoiced accordingly. This is not a core HCPSL service. Full farm RSD surveys will only be undertaken mid-year after all seed inspections are completed for cane to be planted this season. 

The other change this year is that growers will need to come into the HCPSL office with their most recent farm maps, downloaded from the Wilmar website, to book a seed cane inspection with HCPSL staff. Due to changes at Wilmar concerning data management and security, HCPSL currently does not have copies of grower farm maps and data.

HCPSL is working with Wilmar to gain access to farm data, but new computer systems will need to be upgraded before growers can go online through the Wilmar website to grant permission to HCPSL to gain data access. Both HCPSL and Wilmar apologise for the inconvenience caused and are working together to resolve this matter.

Photo above (Left) – HCPSL field staff expressing sap for a xylem sample.
Photo above (Right) – A leaf punch collected for a LSB sample.

The turnaround time from collection to receiving your results using the LSB and qPCR methods is about two weeks, so growers will need to plan which varieties/blocks they want tested. RSD samples will be processed by both the SRA and Metagen labs located in Brisbane and Gatton respectively.

HCPSL and SRA data have shown that growers who utilise Approved and disease-free planting material will grow on average 11 tonnes cane per hectare (tch) more  than growers who don’t.

Don’t take it for granted that the cane you are planting this year is disease free, get it tested!

Growers are urged to contact the HCPSL office ASAP to organise a seed cane inspection by HCPSL field staff.

To download a copy of the Press Release, view the document below.

Press Release: PERMIT GRANTED TO USE RATOFF® FROM HELICOPTER OR DRONE

Posted by Ellie McVeigh
Photo above: Rat baiting of sugarcane with a drone in the Herbert 2022.

HCPSL was notified by CANEGROWERS on the 1st of December 2022 that the Permit to Allow minor use of a registered Agvet Chemical Product for the control of Australian Native Ground rats in lodged sugarcane crops has been granted (permit number PER92695) on the 30/11/2022. The permit is valid for the period 30 November 2022- 30 November 2027. It allows aerial application of RATOFF sachets into lodged cane from a helicopter or drone.

There are now 2 permits in place for rat management that have been approved in the last 2 months:

Conditions under the APVMA permit:

The HCPSL Company Manager would like to thank Mick Quirk (CANEGROWERS) who coordinated the permit submission documentation and meeting with key governmental staff concerning this matter.

For more information concerning the permit, please contact: Lawrence Di Bella- HCPSL Company Manager on 0448084252.

Photo above: Helicopter rat baiting in the Herbert region 2022.

Supporting agencies:

Download a copy of the Press Release here:

Press release: DEAD LEAVES IN SRA36 – NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Posted by Ellie McVeigh

In the past week you may have noticed dead leaves in your young SRA36 cane crops. Dr. Rob Magarey (SRA Pathologist), HCPSL Company Manager- Lawrence Di Bella, SRA plant breeding team members Dr. Fengduo Hu, Juan Briceno and Linda Di Maggio spent Wednesday the 16th of November in the field inspecting blocks of SRA36 across the district.

On inspecting impacted fields, it was noted a physical damage of the top uncurled top leaves of SRA36 was present; often in the 3rd uncurled leaf. The damage consisted of leaf senescence and yellowing of the tissue of the leaf blade, occurring as a stripe in one or both sides of the midrib, and other times the whole leaf blade. No callus or necrotic line separating live tissue from dead tissue was observed, ruling out a reaction of the plant to a pathogen or parasite. New leaves continue to grow unaffected in the inspected canes; the new leaves and the whole plant did not show any signs of further damage.

Above: Note the yellow senescence on the leaf in a cane stool.
Above: Note the 3rd unfolded leaf that has yellow senescence.

The senescence of the leaves in the SRA36, was due a climatic event that occurred 3 weeks earlier. At that time a number of high dew mornings and fog, followed by high daily temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius in field occurred, with an actively growing crop making it an ideal situation for crop damage. In this particular situation, the soft leaf tissue in the growing point had water present (due to the fog) and the high temperatures experienced during the day caused the plant tissue cells to become damaged. As the plant continued to grow these damaged leaves elongate and become fully unfolded exposing the damaged leaves.

It is anticipated that no yield loss will occur, and the variety will continue to grow to its full potential.

If you see anything usual in the field at any time, please contact HCPSL on 47761808.

Press Release: PERMIT GRANTED TO CULL NATIVE RATS

Posted by Ellie McVeigh

HCPSL has been granted a Damage Mitigation Permit (permit number WA0047339) on the 11/11/2022, for the culling of rats in Herbert sugarcane fields from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES).

Under the permit Herbert River canefarmers will be permitted to cull the Grassland melomys (Melomys burtoni) and Cane rat (Rattus sordidus) found in sugarcane fields. The registered rat baits available to the industry are Ratoff® and Racumin®.

Conditions under the permit:

The HCPSL Company Manager would like to thank Rod Nielson (HCPSL staffer) and Mick Quirk (CANEGROWERS Brisbane) who have assisted with the permit submission documentation and meeting with key DES staff.

For more information concerning the permit, please contact Lawrence Di Bella- HCPSL Company Manager on 0448084252

HCPSL Board members and Company Manager head south to investigate new technologies.

Posted by Ellie McVeigh

Last week HCPSL Board members Gino Zatta and Greg Erkilla and HCPSL Company Manager Lawrence Di Bella visited research facilities, machinery manufacturers and other industries to investigate new technologies and equipment that could be used by HCPSL and the Herbert cane industry.

HCPSL Board members and staff at a grain’s property outside of Dalby.
Ellie McVeigh in front of cotton bales at the farm in which James Formosa is employed.

The group ventured in cotton and grain country visiting HCPSL Extension Officer- Ellie McVeigh, who now resides near Dalby with her partner James Formosa. Ellie continues to work for HCPSL on Project CaNE and Cultivate Farms projects, delivering nutrient management plans for Herbert growers and supporting other activities in which the company is undertaking.

The group got to view firsthand Swarm Farm’s robotic driverless spray units which operate on the cotton farm in which James is employed. The group also got to review other grain and cotton technologies and operations during the visit.            

Photo above (left to right): Ellie McVeigh, James Formosa, Greg Erkilla and Gino Zatta in front of a Swarm Farm spray unit, near Dalby.

On the way to Dalby and Toowoomba the group visited the Metagen labs and process facilities in Gatton. At this site the HCPSL team met with Dr Anthony Young (University of Queensland lecturer and scientist) and Shane Fitzgerald (owner/ Director of Metagen) and his team to review the LSB RSD testing lab and general company operations.

Photo above (left to right): Shane Fitzgerald, Lawrence Di Bella, Greg Erkilla, Dr. Anthony Young, Gino Zatta and Dr. Neil Wilson at Metagen, Gatton.

The HCPSL team also visited Gessner in Toowoomba to investigate small billet planters that could possibly be used to plant HCPSL approved seed plots into the future. At this stage HCPSL is still considering what machinery options it may use to plant its Approved Seed plots into the future given labour shortages and the requirement to plant hot water treated cane.

Gino Zatta and Lawrence Di Bella in front of a large ripper used by the Western Australia grains industry at the Gessner factory in Toowoomba.
Tissue culture cane grown at SRA Indooroopilly ready for shipment to regional propagation sites.

When back in Brisbane, the HCPSL team visit Drs. Clair Bolton and Chuong Ngo at SRA Indooroopilly to view firsthand the SRA RSD and tissue culture labs. The tissue culture propagation process was a real eye opener for both Greg and Gino. From one sugarcane meristem many tissue culture plants can be generated for industry use. HCPSL obtains annually tissue culture plants from SRA for Herbert growers to propagate on their own farms.

The final visit for the team was to meet with Dr. Weijin Wang (Queensland government soil scientist) at Queensland government’s Ecoscience Precinct in Brisbane. The team discussed opportunities to work together in the future and visit the largest soils and water laboratory in the southern hemisphere. HCPSL has had a long working relationship with Dr. Weijin Wang, working jointly on projects to better understand nitrogen loss pathways, cover crops and enhanced efficiency fertilisers. Dr Wang’s team does the research, with HCPSL Extension Agronomy staff taking the research and making practical outcomes on the ground for local farmers.

The 3-day trip was informative, thought provoking and will greatly assist HCPSL drive its operations and the local industry forward into the future.

JCU Student, Ethan Waters Receives awards for his innovative work into RSD detection.

Posted by Ellie McVeigh

Congratulations to Ethan Waters the winner of 2022 C.N. Barton Medal for best JCU engineering thesis seminar. He received the award on Thursday evening of the 27th of October at JCU. Additionally, Ethan was the runner-up for the Engineers Australia | Institute of Engineering Technology Student Seminar Competition QLD Finals for Software, Electrical & Electronic Engineering. He received the award on Wednesday night, the 19th of October, at the Engineers Australia office in Brisbane.

Ethan was the James Cook University representative, presenting his thesis on “Sugarcane Health Monitoring and Ratoon Stunting Disease (RSD) Detection with Freely Available Multispectral Satellites”.

Ethan thanked Engineers Australia and the Institute of Engineering Technology for hosting the events. He also thanked his JCU supervisors, Mostafa Rahimi Azghadi and Carla Ewels, for their guidance and the team from HCPSL who assisted him with his studies.

Ethan will continue to work (as a JCU student) with HCPSL staff to progress the research he has undertaken into RSD detection.

Once again congratulations Ethan, your dedication and hard work has paid off.

Download a copy of the Press Release below:

Press Release: IT’S TIME TO RAT BAIT YOUR CANE CROPS BEFORE THEY ARE GONE!

Posted by Ellie McVeigh

High numbers of rats and significant crop damage has been observed across the Herbert cane growing region in the past few weeks.

Large areas of devastated cane have been observed in the Abergowrie area, with rat damage now starting to occur across the district.

Rat damaged cane

Because of the large crop to harvest this year and the late finish to the harvest season, growers are urged to monitor fields yet to be harvested for rat activity.

As a part of an Integrated Rat monitoring approach, rat baiting can be considered. HCPSL has been working with the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science and CANEGROWERS Brisbane to secure an aerial rat baiting permit, for use in the Herbert cane growing region.

HCPSL proposes to have a series of shed meetings to discuss the rat issue and several other topics on the following dates:

10th of October        6pm Bambaroo Rural Fire Brigade Shed

11th of October –      7am HCPSL Macknade office

                                    6pm Long Pocket Finn’s Hall

12th of October –      7am Stone River CWA Hall

                                    6pm HCPSL Ingham office

To achieve a coordinated approach to the rat issue, growers are urged to attend the meeting in their relevant area (if possible). A coordinated approach to rat baiting is now being proposed.

A severely rat damaged cane block in the Abergowrie area.

RSVP:  For catering purposes and to have your farm maps available for the meeting, please phone 47761808 if you will be attending.

LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AT THE HCPSL SHED MEETINGS.

To download the Press Release, view the document below.

Press Release: Closure of HCPSL Approved Clean Seed plots-2022.

Posted by Ellie McVeigh

HCPSL still has some cane varieties available from the HCPSL Approved Clean Seed Stone River and Macknade farms. If you wish to obtain cane from these plots, please contact:

The Ingham Line, Central and Abergowrie plots are already closed or will close by Friday the 30th of September because all cane has been collected or allocated.

All HCPSL Approved Clean Seed cane plots will be closed on the 7th of October.

The HCPSL hot water treatment tanks will remain open until the end of October, if growers are wishing to treat cane.

Growers are urged to contact HCPSL as soon as possible to obtain Approved Clean Seed cane in 2022.

To download a copy of the Press Release, view the file below.

PRESS RELEASE: JCU student is working with HCPSL to try identifying RSD using satellite technology

Posted by Ellie McVeigh

Ethan’s Story:

My name is Ethan Waters, I am in my 4th year for a double bachelor’s in electrical engineering and data science. I am currently conducting my honours thesis with the goal of detecting RSD with the satellite sentinel-2. I am in the process of developing a free prototype program that will inform farmers which of their blocks likely contain RSD. This will allow them to make more informed decisions to prevent the spread of RSD, increasing yield and profits for farmers. The benefit of using large scale imaging with a satellite is the ability to analyse an entire farm for RSD at the same time, rather than relying on a limited number of samples. Therefore, this will provide a more accurate indication of whether a block contains RSD than sample testing.

Brief Methodology Explanation:

Sentinel-2 is a multispectral satellite which captures the reflectance of different waves, including those that cannot be seen with the human eye. A number of different vegetation indices will be calculated for each satellite image and used as an input to an algorithm I develop. I am specifically interested in vegetation indices that look at moisture and water retention of plant matter, given that RSD reduces water retention. 

Above: JCU Student, Ethan Waters.

Future Plans: 

Demonstrating a successful prototype would provide strong grounds to apply for a number of grants and investments into sugarcane research to identify and prevent disease. This will help growers in the industry increase yield and profits. 

We need your help!

HCPSL staff will be contacting growers over the next few days asking for permission for Ethan (JCU student) and HCPSL staff to access your farm data to undertake this study. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

If Ethan is successful in identifying RSD using satellite imagery, it will greatly assist growers better understand and manage the disease.

For more information on the project contact Ethan Waters on 0435 626 685.

Download a copy of Press Release below.

Press release: Keep an eye out for Rats

Posted by Bethany Donker

Rat numbers are on the increase across the Herbert cane growing region. Growers are urged to monitor crops for rat infestations over the next few months and take the necessary action to manage this pest before significant crop damage occurs.

Lodged and open crops, since the recent rains have allowed for weeds to emerge within the crop and for rats to easily forage on laying down cane stalks. Significant crop damage due to rats was observed late last year and will continue again this season, due to ideal conditions being experienced.

HCPSL and Project Catalyst, recently conducted a workshop on “Rats, Pigs and Soils”, where Travis Van Dooren from Travearth Drone Services (mobile: 0423 638 628) showcased his drone mounted rat bait dispensing device. The device can drop industry approved rat baits from a drone precisely and accurately into large standing and lodged crops of cane. This service will allow farmers to target smaller blocks and blocks where larger aircraft cannot service.

Local aerial operators Liddles and Travearth are available to undertake rat baiting activities of large or small cane blocks in the local area.

As a part of an integrated rat management program farmers are also urged to manage weed infestations within crop and along riparian areas. Weed seed is a source of protein for rats and allows them to reproduce into significant numbers, if left unmanaged.

Growers should consider rat baiting problematic blocks as a part of their integrated rat management program before significant crop losses occur this year.

For more information about implementing an integrated rat management program, please contact a HCPSL Extension Agronomist.

Travis Van Dooren showcasing his drone-mounted rat bait dispenser at the recent HCPSL & Project Catalyst workshop.

HCPSL