Whichever way you look at it, last week was another good week.
Certainly, it is still dry and growers are pinning their hopes on the good old November thunderstorms for a head start into next year, but for harvesting, milling and overall production it was a good week.
With almost three-quarters of the crop now cut and sugar content still hanging in there, the news is almost as good as it gets for this time of the season.
But ask anyone in the industry and they’d tell you not to say that too loudly.
There is still a month or so to go and cane growers are not the kind to spruik their glory.
“We have seen the best results for reliability and sugar recovery for the season achieved this week,” a Mackay Sugar spokesman said.
“The PRS has increased slightly and continues to put pressure on the factory processing area and will continue to limit crushing rates.”
Victoria Plains grower Ian Stevenson reckons there is a lot to be optimistic about.
Yes, he is cautious. But for him, with plants and ratoons out of the ground and looking good, and his standing cane almost all off for the season, Mr Stevenson is allowing himself the luxury of looking forward to what he hopes will be a good 2019 crop.
“It’s in years like this that you can be glad you can pay for water and you can irrigate,” Mr Stevenson said.
“We were very lucky to have had about 30mm out of that rain from a few weeks ago and our plant and ratoon cane is all out of the ground and looks okay.”
Mr Stevenson has been growing cane on his family’s home farm on Lenahan’s Rd since he was 15. That was in 1964 when his father took on the place.
Now, he grows and harvests about 800 acres of cane land on the home farm and leased farms in neighbouring areas.
Mr Stevenson is what he calls one of the lucky ones: able to access and pay for the water needed to irrigate.
Once the crushing is done for the year, that watering – and irrigating each of the home and leased farms as needed – becomes almost a full-time job in itself.
He jokes about the days the off season was called the slack. It still is, but now there’s not so much that’s slack about it.
Alternative crops, such as lap-lap and soya bean, are taking up more and more time, as well as shed work, servicing and maintenance and other on-farm jobs.
“We do a lot ourselves and there is very little we will outsource,” Mr Stevenson said.
“Where we do outsource, of course, we use local people and contractors but we find that the more we do ourselves the more control we have.”
That’s especially true for the harvesting – and this year has proven it.
“When we are harvesting our own, we can say where and what we will cut and we have more control over which cane goes when – that has been helpful with the weather and it’s always good having that.”
Bin consistency – in numbers and reliability of supply – has been another contributor to the Stevensons’ solid 2018 season.
“The mills overall have been running really well.
“I wish Mark Day had been in this position a few years ago, you know. He’s doing well,” Mr Stevenson said.
“We are getting our bins on time, we are happy with our allocations and it has been a reliable process; one of the best seasons we have had in a few years.”
On the back of the bumper week, the Mackay Sugar spokesman said Farleigh Mill had operated reasonably well during the week, with boiler capacity the rate limiting station.
“A stop to replace shredder hammer tips was scheduled and other critical maintenance jobs were also completed,” the spokesman said.
“High grade pans limited rate at Marian, though, and a maintenance day was scheduled to repair leaks on effet injection water piping.
“There were some issues on restart that caused significant lost time including a faulty isolation valve on No 9 pan injection water and a faulty juice circuit valve.”
The spokesman said the crushing rate at Racecourse was restricted by evaporator throughout, and chemical cleans of PE1A evaporator had been scheduled.
A broken underfeed chain on No 1 mill and an electrical fault on the bagasse bin hoist drive caused some downtime, they said.
WEEKLY CRUSH FIGURES
MACKAY SUGAR – WEEKLY UPDATE
Total tonnes 221,806
Total tonnes to date 3,637,669
PRS week 15.82
PRS year to date 13.95