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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 1

I Groping In A Strange Environment: 1788-1851

II Farmers Take The Initiative: 1851-1888

III Enter Education And Science: 1888-1927

IV Agricultural Science Pays Dividends: 1927-1987

V Examples Of Research And Development 1928-1988
i Land assessment
ii Improving the environment
iii Adapting to the environment
iv Improving farm management

VI International Aspects Of Agricultural Research

VII Future Prospects

VIII Acknowledgements



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Science and the Sugar Industry (continued)

Similarly, patient and systematic plant breeding at the Bureau's four experiment stations has resulted in new cane varieties that combine better quality and greater yields with increased disease resistance. The various soil types on which the cane is grown have been meticulously studied and optimal fertilizer practices have been developed for each type. The major pests of the crop, cane grubs and wireworms, have been investigated and brought under control and measures have also been developed to minimise competition from weeds. In many cases novel techniques and processes have had to be evolved, while in others developments from overseas have been adapted to suit Queensland conditions.

In developing technologies of harvesting, milling and processing cane Australia has also become a world leader and it is the application of these technologies that has resulted in today's billion dollar industry, exporting some 80 per cent of its production. The quality of its research, coupled with the entrepreneurship of its management, has established for the industry a special place of leadership in the theory and practice of cane crushing; the clarification of juice; the chemical control of sugar factories; the application of computers to milling, processing, scheduling of transport, new equipment design, factory planning, and the remote control of locomotives; the specification and application of polyelectrolytes; the crystallization process; the use of enzymes in deteriorated cane; and infield transport systems.[82]

Nowhere has the innovativeness of the industry been better shown than in its attitude towards mechanical harvesting. Prior to 1960, harvesting of over 99 per cent of sugar cane was done manually in Queensland. It was customary to augment the workforce of farmers and permanent farm hands by employing, for the duration of the harvest, some 10,000 cane-cutters and general farm workers. In the following decade a complete transformation took place until by 1971 almost all the cane was mechanically harvested. All land preparation, and the weeding, planting, cutting, topping, loading and transporting of cane is now highly mechanised.

Some 20-25 million tonnes of cane are harvested annually in 20 weeks. Cane is a perishable commodity which requires a target of ten hours average delay between cut and crush and it is transported mainly on a tram railway system up to 60 km from the field to the mill. The careful scheduling of transport with complex computer programs is therefore an essential feature of the system. Companies such as Massey Ferguson at Sunshine, Victoria, and Toft in Bundaberg, Queensland, have made Australia a world leader in the mechanical harvesting of sugar cane.

Sheep and wool production

Australia's sheep population reached a peak of 180.1 million in 1970, and had for decades been the highest in the world. Drought and low wool prices reduced numbers in the following decade, and first place was yielded to the Soviet Union in 1980; by 1984, however, the Australian population had risen to 140.7 million, only slightly behind the Soviet figure (142.4 million in 1982). Seventysix per cent of Australian sheep are Merino, and another 20 per cent part Merino, so this country stands as the world's premier producer of apparel wool. In 1950 wool accounted for 50 per cent of export income; by the early 1980s this had fallen to only 10 per cent, but still represented a figure of just under $2 billion.

Since there were no sheep in Australia before the advent of white settlers, this represents a remarkable technological achievement, brought about by a combination of efficient breeding and management.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations; CSIRO; Massey Ferguson; Queensland. Department of Agriculture; Toft Brothers Industries

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 48 - 49, Online Edition 2000
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