Experimental Sugarbeet Is Promising

Published online: Aug 09, 2007 Sugar Producer Staff Report
There are promising results from an experimental sugarbeet crop being grown in the Emerald region of Queensland, Australia. Most trials of the crop in Australia ended about 10 years ago but a group of Emerald district irrigators say they are seeing promising results with the sugarbeet being grown on four farms in the region. The research is part of a project involving four growers, agronomist Roger Lindeman of Lindeman and Associations Pty. Ltd., BSES Ltd., and Pacific Seeds Pty Ltd. The 37-acre trial plots were planted from late April to June. When the crop is harvested in about October it will be hauled to a sugar mill at Mackay for juicing and ethanol production. Lindeman says that from previous small trials at Emerald perhaps the region could produce beets with better yield than the world average, due in part to ideal climate for the crop. With the introduction of bio-engineered cotton the world production has increased significantly over the past couple of years with a corresponding downturn in the price received for this commodity. While cotton has been on a downward slide other commodities have been gaining ground due to new markets for biofuel crops. "A couple of the growers have had alternative crops on their minds, given the way cotton prices were six months ago," Lindeman says. "The other side of it is that the grain and sugar markets will change significantly and be driven by the ethanol industry in the future." The work now being conducted is aimed at establishing yields on different soil types in the area. There is also the question of whether the success of small trials can translate into a sugar beet crop that will produce an economic return. "I believe that the icing on the cake has been the research carried out by the main sugar beet seed producers over the past few years into, and developing varieties for warmer climate," Lindeman says. But he warns that ways will need to be found to handle a commercial crop of 90 to 140 tonnes a hectare (222 to 345 tonnes an acre) and adds that the long-term success will involve building an extraction and juicing plant on a local level to reduce freight costs.