Research project aims to boost sugar industry

Published 12 February 2004

Southern Cross University (SCU) is one of the core partners in a new $80 million research venture aimed at doubling the return from the nation’s sugar industry.

The research project is welcome news for the industry, hit hard by the exclusion of sugar from this week’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

The $80 million Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology will bring together the expertise of SCU, the Bureau of Sugar Experimental Stations (BSES), the CSIRO, the Sugar Research and Development Corporation and the University of Queensland. It will also involve many other research and development organisations, industry groups and universities.

Professor Robert Henry, from the SCU’s Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics, said the two main objectives of the project were to increase the production of sugar from sugar cane plants and to try and develop alternative products.

“We want to double the average dollar return from sugar cane plants across the country. It is a reasonably ambitious target, but it’s not impossible,” Professor Henry said.

He said the exclusion of sugar from the Free Trade deal highlighted the need for innovation to secure the long-term future of the industry.

“What it means is the situation hasn’t changed for the sugar industry. It doesn’t have access to the North American market, which would have had the potential for significant gains in the industry.

“We need to have a diverse range of high-value products because the world price of sugar is so low and it’s not likely to suddenly increase.”

Professor Henry said the state of the sugar industry had significant social impacts on many small communities, from Northern NSW to Far North Queensland.

As a core partner in the CRC, more than 10 SCU researchers from the Centre for Plant Genetics and the Centre for Phytochemistry will be involved in a range of projects.

Professor Henry said the CRC was funded for seven years, but it was hoped there would be positive outcomes for the sugar industry within a shorter time frame.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.