Perfect growing conditions have produced another record cane crop for the Tully district, with the latest forecasts tipping it will surpass the three million tonne mark for the first time.
But while growers are celebrating, there are concerns the local sugar mill won’t be able to crush the entire crop before the wet season kicks in.
Joe Formosa, who produces about 3500 tonnes of cane just south of Tully, said this year’s crop was his best in years and was still growing.
“We’ve got ideal weather conditions right now. We’ve had rain followed by hot days and the crop just keeps growing,” he said.
“I just hope the weather holds out and we can get all the crop off. We need to have fine weather now.”
Tully Mill general manager Barry Dun said unseasonal winter rain had already caused about three weeks of lost crushing time but he was optimistic the mill would get through the record crop.
“At the moment we’re forecasting we will need to go right up through to the end of December,” he said.
“We understand that’s optimistic … we believe there’s more than three million tonnes of cane available to harvest which is a first for Tully.” He said the district now needed fine weather conditions through to December.
“The concern is we will run into wet weather later in the year which will prevent us from being able to harvest the whole crop.”
Mr Dun said the crop was currently measuring 103 tonnes per hectare – well above the district average of 85 tonnes per hectare.
It is Tully’s third consecutive record crop. Last year’s crop was about 2.9 million tonnes and the 2014 crop measured about 2.5 million tonnes.
Mr Dun said Tully Mill, which is owned by Chinese food company Cofco, was still in “active and constructive” negotiations with growers on future cane supply contracts that provide for grower choice in marketing.
He said the company had offered growers an option to forward price in 2017 by rolling over their existing contract for one year until negotiations were finalised on new contracts.
“It was evident that pricing in 2017 was a big issue because prices were as high as they had been in a long time,” Mr Dun said.
“We think we are being as reasonable as possible and a very large number of our growers have priced for 2017.”
Mr Formosa is one such producer.
“I have forward sold a portion of my crop for next year so I’ve locked that in at good prices. I didn’t get as high as what it (the price) went up to, but I’ve done ok,” he said.