Two separate flood peaks hit the Herbert River sugar cane district, ripping up thousands of hectares of farmland and causing $15 million in local infrastructure damage alone.
At the same time, a global glut exacerbated by sugar subsidies paid by the Pakistan and Indian governments, led to sugar prices crashing.
At a current 2018 price of around $380 per tonne, worldwide sugar prices are below the cost of production.
Canegrowers Herbert River chair and local grower, Michael Pisano, said figures he had seen equated to a loss of half a million tonnes of cane, following a near-record crop last year.
“Smaller plantings, larger fallows at the end of the year is what I’m hearing from a lot of growers.”
Mr Pisano said at least 1,300 hectares of cane land was a complete write-off, unable to be harvested this year.
“If we can finish the season in mid-November, hopefully we can recover the crop so 2019 will look better for us,” he said.
Wilmar Cane Supply Manager, Paul Giordani, said more time was needed before such large write-downs were made.
“Our preliminary crop estimate of 4.77 million tonnes of cane is around five per cent lower than our earlier expectation,” he said.
“These are early estimates and the final crop size will be largely dependent on what happens over the next six months.
Mr Giordani said Wilmar expected a total crush of 16.22 million tonnes across its eight mills, with other regions making up for losses in the Herbert.
Herbert Cane Productivity Services has used the latest technology to assess the damage, much of which was not evident for several weeks after the floods receded.
Manager Lawrence di Bella said the use of satellite mapping combined with drone vision helped quantify the extent of the losses.
“We’ve now been able to acquire images after the flood event and we can now see major flood damage,” he said.
Following drone assessment, stalk weights and samples showed the damage was greater than anticipated in some parts of the lower Herbert, downstream of Ingham.
“The losses are definitely higher than we initially thought, on the cane yield especially,” Mr di Bella said.
Mr di Bella said the size of the loss surprised even experienced growers and would be the third worst in history for many growers, surpassing the 1977 flood in terms of devastation.
Hinchinbrook Shire mayor, Ramon Jayo, said the retail business sector was the first to feel the impact of the floods, with spending well down.
“Hopefully we will have a reprieve shortly when tourists start coming up from the south,” he said.
A recent postponement of the planned North Queensland Bio Energy plant due to financing issues had been another blow to the community, Cr Jayo said.
Ethanol and other renewable energy products were to be created by the $640 million facility, with the project employing 250 workers.
Cr Jayo said losing the opportunity to diversify the economy away from crystal sugar was a great disappointment.
“We do agriculture well and we do know that agriculture is viable for things such as co-generation and renewable energy.
“There’s a lot of money out there for solar and other alternative energies such as wind, so what is the problem with agriculture?”