Queensland cane growers have wrapped up a long and testing harvest season in which just over 34 million tonnes of sugarcane was sent to the state’s 21 mills for crushing.
Peak farming group CANEGROWERS estimates that will be turned into at least 4.3 million tonnes of raw sugar worth around $2 billion when sold on the export and domestic markets.
“It’s rare to have our harvesters still running into the festive season but this year our growers and contractors worked up to and past Christmas in six of our sugarcane growing regions,” Chairman Paul Schembri said. “CANEGROWERS thanks them for their persistence and hard work.
“We are grateful too to the Transport and Main Roads Department which made staff available in the lead up to Christmas to process permits to allow the work to continue during what is usually a curfew period for heavy agricultural machinery on Queensland roads.
“We also have to acknowledge the travelling public which, through this busy time on regional highways, accommodated our large cane transport vehicles and took care around cane trains.”
Wet weather in the usually dry winter months at the start of the crush in some key north Queensland areas put the season behind schedule early.
The rain also meant the crop kept growing, increasing the estimated tonnage needing to be harvested. The Tully mill processed a record 2.9 million tonnes but in a number of districts, not all of the crop could be cut before the summer rains set in.
Around half a million tonnes has been left behind, because of weather and milling problems, which will stand over until the 2017 crush begins.
Mr Schembri said it was a disappointing and frustrating end to the season in his home district of Mackay.
“Mill breakdowns and the rain mean 350,000 – 400,000 tonnes of cane have been left unharvested in the Mackay paddocks alone,” he said. “That represents around $20 million worth of sugar lost to the regional economy and we are urging Mackay Sugar to address the reliability of its plants before the 2017 season starts.”
The Mackay Sugar mills were the last to finish, switching off this week. Other mills to finish during the festive season were Proserpine Mill on Christmas Day, Plane Creek Mill at Sarina on 27 December, Victoria Mill at Ingham on 28 December, Tully Sugar on New Years’ Eve and Inkerman Mill in the Burdekin on 3 January.
“Rain is now falling across most districts and we are looking forward to the 2017 season with optimism,” Mr Schembri said. “World sugar prices remain strong on predictions the market is sitting on an 8 million tonne global deficit.
“The only cloud on our horizon is the lack of collective Cane Supply Agreements for our members in Wilmar Sugar milling districts meaning the company is short around 14 million tonnes of cane for when it’s mills start up again.
“Six of the seven milling companies operating in Queensland have negotiated commercial arrangements for the next season and we want nothing more than to see everyone’s futures secured in this way.”