Highlights of the SASTA 2017 Congress Programme

Dr Deborah Sweby and Natasha Sharma

SASTA celebrates its 90th congress this year with a bumper programme! Almost 90 papers were accepted for publication, which is about 30% more than the average number of papers publish over the last 10 years. 

Not only is there a record number of papers but this year also features a specialist Factory session on Biorefinery as well as a Grower Engagement Forum focused on the commercialisation of Genetically Modified (GM) sugarcane in South Africa. It is wonderful to receive such good support from our authors and to commemorate the 90 th congress with a strong programme filled with high quality research and technical papers.

Keynote Address 

Dr Hennie Groenewald   
Executive Manager Biosafety South Africa 


Keynote address to focus on GM Sugarcane

In June 2017, Brazil’s National Technical Commission for Biosecurity (CTNBio) approved the commercial use of a genetically modified sugarcane. This is a significant development as Brazil will be the only country with GM sugarcane that sells on the world market. As South Africa prepares to embark on the commercialisation of its own GM cane it is therefore fitting that the keynote address is delivered by Dr Hennie Groenewald, Executive Manager Biosafety South Africa. Dr Groenewald’s presentation, entitled “GM sugarcane: Super Pain or Super Cane?” will discuss some of the fundamental issues that have bearing on the sustainable development and use of GM technology.

The Plenary session follows the Opening and features the traditional annual reviews of the 2016/2017 season from both an agricultural and milling perspective. This is followed by a guest presentation by Prof Dr Annegret Stark, SMRI Sugarcane Biorefinery Research Chair at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Dr Stark will set the scene for the special session on Biorefinery and Downstream Products that takes place on Wednesday 16 August. 

During the lunch break that follows the Plenary session delegates are invited to view the Agriculture and Factory Poster papers on display within the Exhibition venue. During this time the poster authors will be in attendance at their posters to answer any questions from delegates. After lunch the programme then splits into parallel Agriculture and Factory sessions.

The first Agriculture session
starts by informing delegates about
a new pest in the
South African Sugar industry, 
Cacosceles newmannii

Highlights from the Agriculture Session papers

The first Agriculture Session is focused on Entomology research and starts by informing delegates about a new pest in the South African sugar industry, Cacosceles newmannii , which has required urgent attention. Several papers concentrate on different facets of Eldana saccharina management. These include an economic analysis of extending the harvest cycle of cane treated with chemicals to suppress Eldana levels and important aspects that pertain towards developing Eldana resistant GM sugarcane.

Day 2 of the Agriculture programme is a busy one, with 24 paper presentations over 5 sessions. A wide spectrum of topics are covered that highlight aspects of soil nutrition, agronomy, plant breeding and agricultural engineering. Delegates will hear about research into soil minerals such as nitrogen and phosphorus as well as an overview of the fertility status of sugarcane soils from 2012-2016. Agronomic conditions that affect sugarcane performance as well as various web-based tools to analyse crop growth are also presented. Implications of damage by Eldana to sugarcane breeding populations are discussed as well the performance of sugarcane genotypes in different regions and under different growing conditions. The day concludes with various presentations pertaining to mechanisation and sugarcane transport vehicles. 

The morning of the third and final day of congress kicks off with several presentations on crop management, two of which focus on the importance and benefits of demonstration trials in promoting adoption. The final session of the Agricultural section of congress has a strong Economic focus. A cost analysis of post-harvest deterioration as well as a study of large-scale grower input costs over a 15 year period are presented. The focus on GM sugarcane continues with an investigation into the potential cost benefit of herbicide tolerant and insect resistant GM sugarcane. Other papers in this final session will examine biogas from sugarcane as well as various tools that can improve decision making under different growth scenarios. 

Highlights from the Factory Session papers

The dedicated factory sessions begin on Tuesday afternoon with a session focussed on energy. This topic remains of great interest to the engineers in the sugar industry. New ways of monitoring energy usage in a factory will be discussed in this session. A paper describing practical methods used to reduce steam consumption in a sugar mill in India forms part of this session.  

The second day of congress begins with a session on milling and diffusion. Diffusion is the predominant extraction method used in the South African sugar industry. The use of conductivity to monitor juice hold-up in a cane diffuser will be discussed. Results from laboratory scale and plant scale trials will be presented. The impact of drought affected cane on milling operations will also be discussed. This will be of great interest to all factory personnel in light of the drought that negatively impacted the sugar industry. Session 3 is a commercial session. The commercial session provides a useful opportunity to hear about the latest developments from suppliers. This session focuses on the importance of material selection and the processing problems linked to dextran in sugarcane. The session before lunch is a mix of various raw-house themed papers. The use of a pipeline viscometer to determine the viscosity of massecuite as well as the quantification of gums in the factory will be presented. 

An exciting addition to SASTA this year
is the inclusion of a sugarcane biorefinery
and downstream products session
(run parallel to the traditional
factory session on Day 2).

An exciting addition to SASTA this year is the inclusion of a sugarcane biorefinery and downstream products session (run parallel to the traditional factory session on Day 2). Bagasse drying and alternative products from bagasse are some of the topics that will be presented. There will also be a paper outlining a toolkit that could assist in identifying new products for the sugarcane industry.  

The final day of congress focuses mainly on refinery operations. The use of online colour cameras to improve colour management and automation of refinery pans are some of the topics covered. Experiences with different colour removal technologies will be presented in a paper that compares the energy footprint and operating costs of ion exchange and activated carbon. Of interest will be the learnings from the 2015 Pongola silo failure. The final session of the day is another commercial session that focuses on innovations pertaining to continuous centrifugals and sugar mill drives.

Trade Exhibition and Social Events 

The Trade Exhibition continues to be a focal point at SASTA Congress. The Exhibition continues to receive consistent support from suppliers to the industry with over 50 stands being sold for the 2017 Congress. Refreshments, lunches and social events are held in the Exhibition Hall, enabling maximum interaction between delegates and exhibitors during the three days of congress. As in previous years the Trade Exhibition also hosts an ‘open afternoon’ on Wednesday 16 August from 15h00 –17h00. Exhibitors have the opportunity to invite clients to network and discuss business at their stands during this time.

At the end of the first day’s sessions delegates are encouraged to relax in the Exhibition area for some drinks and snacks where they can network, renew old acquaintances and perhaps make some new ones! 

The authors’ dinner on Wednesday evening is a fitting commendation to all the contributors to SASTA Congress 2017; it is thanks to their dedication, expertise and willingness to share their knowledge and experience with the sugar industry that ensures the successes of SASTA Congress.