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Senator Keith Laurie

Barbados is testing a new super sugar cane variety that promises increased yields and lower overheads.

The trials are taking place at the century-old West Indies Central Sugar Breeding Station in St George where Dr Tony Kennedy is developing the high- sugar, high-fibre cane - a combination scientists had previously thought to be impossible.

"What I've been doing is selecting varieties initially for total sugars only, but what I noticed inadvertently is that we maintained an enormous variation for fibre. The fibre ranged from 19 per cent to 10 per cent and sucrose between 27 per cent and 31 per cent," explained Kennedy.

"It used to be thought that you could not have both high fibres and high sugars because they are antagonistic in a way because the plant makes energy and divides it between fibre, which is cellulose made of the same stuff as sucrose (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen), or it makes sugar and stores it. As it turns out there are genotypes for a genetic material quite capable of doing both and we have them in the field here".

Sugar cane varieties so far have either had high sugar and low fibre or the opposite, or a lower percentage balance of the two.

President of the Barbados Sugar Technologists in Agriculture, Senator Keith Laurie, said this was a welcome development.

He said that all fibre ended in bagasse which was used as fuel to power 90 per cent of the energy used by sugar factories.

"With less fibre the fuel balance becomes critical. If you upset the balance by reducing fibre content you may run out of fuel and we have no supplementary fuel in Barbados," said Laurie.

Director of the station Dr P. Seshagiri Rao, said that the Groves, St-George institution private-sector organisation founded 113 years ago, had accumulated the world's largest sugar cane gene bank that makes it possible to create any type of sugar cane for any purpose. - wether for sugar, molasses, soft drinks, alcohol, or wood production. Place the order, give them a minimum of five years and they will mix and match genes to create sugar cane made-to-order.

By Terry Ally, from the Daily Nation - Barbados

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