Rocky Point Sugar Mill, Gold Coast, South-East Queensland.

Aerial view of Rocky Point Sugar Mill, Gold Coast, South-East Queensland.

Sugar overview

CSIRO is working to breed better sugarcane varieties, produce better and more diverse products and improve mill and post mill processing to help support a sustainable and profitable future for the Australian sugar industry.

  • 1 December 2005 | Updated 14 October 2011

CSIRO has a diverse range of activities working to support the A$1 billion sugar industry.

Wild sugarcane

Existing commercial sugarcane varieties are hybrids of two types. There are, however, many other types of sugarcane or closely related species with useful genes.  These genes could provide characteristics beneficial to cultivated sugarcane.

CSIRO is investigating sugarcane types in collections held by BSES Ltd and in China to identify favourable traits. We will then try and incorporate these favourable traits into commercial sugarcane varieties without importing unfavourable traits.

CSIRO is helping develop alternative sugarcane products and high-yield varieties. We are doing this by developing molecular markers that flag useful and detrimental genes.

Scientists have identified a number of markers for high sugar content and disease resistance and are now testing their reliability.

More sugar and new products

Sucrose, better known as sugar, is produced in the sugarcane’s leaves and transported to storage tissue in the stem. Sugar is extracted from the stem at the sugar mill.

CSIRO is investigating the transport steps involved in moving sucrose from the leaves to storage cells in the stem.  We are also investigating the unique features in sugarcane’s storage tissue which allow high concentrations of sucrose to be stored.

Using cultivated and wild varieties of sugarcane, CSIRO hopes to develop sugarcane better at storing sucrose. We then aim to breed new varieties of sugarcane with more sucrose which could result in better profits for cane growers.

Sugarcane has the potential to produce a range of other compounds for food or industrial applications. A greater understanding of sucrose transport and storage processes will provide basic information that can be applied to help produce compounds with a greater value than sucrose.


In Australia there are seven major sugarcane growing regions, most of which have their own breeding programs.

CSIRO has determined that a national approach to sugarcane breeding will best service the sugar industry. We are working with BSES Ltd to implement this.

We are also working on ways to improve breeding methods by assessing how trials are conducted. This will help get the best balance between gaining a lot of knowledge about a single sugarcane variety and testing many sugarcane varieties.

Supply chain

CSIRO is working to improve efficiencies in the Australian sugar industry supply chain.

We are creating mathematical models that are able to deal with supply chain complexity and produce first-rate production schedules for complex industries such as the sugar industry.

Our work is providing harvest and transport schedules delivering substantial economic benefits to the Australian sugar industry.

Nitrogen management

Nitrogen fertilisers have been identified as a significant source of diffuse pollution in catchments adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef in northern Australia.

CSIRO is developing an approach to reduce fertiliser use in the sugarcane industry and minimise environmental impacts, without compromising yields.


CSIRO works collaboratively in its sugar research. We are working with BSES Ltd and through the Cooperative Research Centre for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology.

Read about Precision Agriculture: profiting from variation.