There is a haze over Mackay most nights as cane farmers burn off more than usual this crushing season.
It’s a combination of standover cane needing clearing of extraneous material, and to remove debris in canefields brought in by Cyclone Debbie.
Along with the usual vegetation debris, there are canefields polluted with building materials, roofing, drums and in some cases. gas cylinders.
Canegrower Joseph Borg said there was about 500,000 tonnes of standover cane, the crop that was supposed to be harvested last season, but delays and wet weather forced the farmers to keep it in the paddock.
“Because of its nature… being so thick and with so much extraneous matter, it saves fuel for the harvester,” Mr Borg said.
“Everyone is trying to get that standover cane off first so it will be burnt first.”
He said that crop should be done by about mid-September.
But cane will continue to burn all season because of debris in fields thanks to flood events and TC Debbie.
“There is so much debris in the cane,” Mr Borg said.
“It’s a health and safety issue. Imagine if a gas bottle is sitting in the middle of a paddock and you hit it with a harvester,” he said.
“There are also washouts in paddocks. If you burn the cane then at least you can see any obstructions.”
He said the low lying farms will most likely burn before harvest because they were more affected by the water and have more debris.
“It will be more around the south side of Pioneer River close to town, and the Sandy Creek area,” he said.
The cane is burned the night before the harvest, and farmers are permitted to start burning cane after 2pm.
Cane fires are usually short, but intense and burn a large biomass.
There is no real loss or gain in yield, but there is a slight increase in the PRS (Percentage of Recoverable Sugar) which is the standard used for payment from mills.
The decision to burn is made between the harvest operator and the farmers.
Do you have some great photos of this year’s cane burn? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org