If successful, the project would increase the productivity of the crop and ultimately help deliver steadier and cheaper supplies of sugar for the food industry.
Ensuring a reliable supply of sugar at steady prices is a concern for the food industry. In the last few days, the Sweetener Users Association (SUA), which represents confectioners, bakers and other food manufacturers, warned that supplies of sugar could soon be disrupted by production shortages, refining capacity issues and the upcoming hurricane season.
Poor sugarcane harvests and bad weather can cause prices to rise and disrupt supply, creating a market for hardier and higher yield crops.
In announcing the new partnership with the Brazil-based Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC), BASF said they would provide sugarcane farmers with superior genes, which will increase the reliability and size of their harvests.
Within the next decade the goal is to bring to market sugarcane varieties with yield increases of 25 per cent.
“The key objective of this cooperation is to develop sugarcane varieties that will produce 25 per cent more yield than the varieties currently on the market,” said BASF plant science group president Marc Ehrhardt.
“This type of yield increase would mean that the average quantity of sugarcane harvested could rise from 80 to 100 tons per hectre.”
BASF and CTC said the financial gains from the new higher yield crops would be shared between themselves and with sugarcane producers. In addition to developing genes with higher yields, the partners said the hardiness of crops would also be improved.
Drought tolerance is one aim but the companies also want to develop sugarcane varieties in the future with herbicide-resistant properties.
BASF has no experience in the sugarcane sector but has significant plant biotech know-how that will complement the sugarcane expertise that CTC has built up in its 40 year history as a sugarcane research centre.