Earlier this year drought-stricken cane growers feared there wouldn’t be a crush.
A last-minute drenching from ex-tropical cyclone Debbie provided a glimmer of hope but crushing figures have revealed it just wasn’t enough.
With an estimated crush of only 600,000 tonnes this season, Maryborough Sugar Factory CEO Mike Barry said it was a “dreadful outcome” for farmers.
About 123,000t of cane has already been crushed at the company’s Maryborough mill following a late start.
While the Bureau of Meteorology predicts anywhere between 100-200mm of rainfall over the next three months for both Maryborough and Hervey Bay, it will be too late to turn this season around.
Canegrowers Maryborough manager Cameron Waterson said they were trying to ensure growers had enough access to water to keep putting out a crop.
“The crop itself can’t recover,” Mr Waterson said.
“In the last year there’s been little rainfall, so our current water scheme can’t replace it.
“So we could get to a situation where we run out of water.”
He said his organisation was looking at methods to increase capacity if rainfall levels did not live up to their predictions.
“Ideal conditions would be a regularity of rainfall, but it’s shifted to a pattern where it’s too sparse between falls,” Mr Waterson said.
The harvest is down about 20% from last year’s total crush of 791,000t, and even further from 2015’s crush of 861,000t.
Mr Waterson said short-term strategies included increasing offstream water storage through dams, better irrigation schemes and concessional loans from the Federal Government.
“We’re working with other parties like SunWater to try and increase water capacity in the area,” he said.
“It’s now about putting things back into control on the water front.
“We need more support with dams on properties and increasing the capacities of irrigation schemes.
“We’re optimistic we’ll get a return to conditions… but even now, as cane is being harvested we’re getting ready for a new season.”
While Mr Barry said the current estimate was low, it would have been a “wipe-out” pre-Debbie”.
He said growers were resilient and determined to improve irrigation in the region. The Fraser Coast was drought-declared in March after an unseasonably dry summer.