Growing up on the family cane farm, Kelvin Griffin loved the thought of being able to drive the big tractors for a living – when he left school he did just that.
The second generation Bargara grower has seen the highs and lows of the sugar industry and has taken on a directors role at Canegrowers Bundaberg.
“Growing up I didn’t really know anything different,” he said.
“You would come home from school and work on the farm.”
His farm spans across 80 hectares growing four different types of sugar cane.
“We’ve got very volcanic soil which is good for growing,” he said.
“It ranges from red to black stony soil and everything in between.
“We mainly grow Q240 closely followed by Q238 and KQ228.”
Mr Griffin said he does experiment by trialling other types.
“They’re reliable and well performing types, with good striking ability and return a good tonnage per hectare,” he said.
“We try others to see what works and what doesn’t.”
On average, Mr Griffin harvests between 5500-6000 tonnes a season, however that can vary depending on the weather.
“Last year was really wet and this year it’s the exact opposite – it’s bone dry,” he said.
“Because of how wet it was we had stand over at the end of the season.
“We bogged a lot of our fields out and it was just too wet to harvest.”
Now like most farmers around the country, Mr Griffin and other cane growers are feeling the strain from the drought.
“It certainly puts a question mark over getting ready for next season,” he said.
“We’ve got to irrigate and it’s very hard to grow on just irrigation alone, we need a helping hand from mother nature.
“Hopefully we get something in the next three weeks to get a head start on spring.”
He said the longer it takes to rain, the more it was affect the 2019 crush.
“We’ve also got a question mark over our water allocations and storage because there has been no rain,” he said.
“We’ve been through droughts before and they affect our tonnage.”
If the drought wasn’t enough – farmers are also battling with the power and low sugar prices.
“It’s not covering costs, we’ve had to dig back into the overdraft to fertilise and irrigate,” he said.
“I’ve noticed when I drive around people aren’t irrigating when they should be and it’s because they can’t afford to.
“It has an impact on low production which the ripples on to a lower price and income – it becomes a very negative cycle.”
While the industry is having its struggles, Mr Griffin said it shouldn’t deter young people from getting into the cane industry.
“It is an ageing sector at the moment,” he said.
“It’s a way of life, you do go through those lower patches but things can come up again when you least expect it.”
Recently applications opened for scholarships offered by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation.
Mr Griffin had the opportunity to participate in a program back in 2000 and 2001.
“It was very beneficial for me,” he said.
“It provided me with ongoing networking with like-minded people from different areas in agriculture such as cane, grain and dairy.
“It gives people the chance to learn new leadership skills and transfer information.”
Being involved with the industry for 40 years, Mr Griffin has seen changes over time.
“The biggest change is all the government regulation that’s come in,” he said.
“We’re spending too much time on all of the paper work and not enough time in the field actively growing and doing things.”
“I’d like to see a lot of the red tape the government have and wish to introduce cut out.”
The future looks bright for Mr Griffin’s farm with his son the next inline to carry on the family business.
“It doesn’t come without its struggles, it can be challenging at times like any other business,” he said.
“You’ve just got to work at it and make things happen.”
Mr Griffin said the sugar industry is something that makes the Bundaberg region.
“I really want the industry to stay strong,” he said.
“There is such a big flow on affect from the farmer, to the machinery contractors, the people employed at the mills and the people who look after our chemicals and fertilisers.
“A lot of money is generated for this region through the sugar industry.”
For more information about the Australia Rural Leadership Foundation, visit www.rural-leaders.org.au.