After 126 years of operation, the Maryborough sugar mill will not crush again, with local stakeholders moving quickly to ensure the future of the industry.

Maryborough Canegrowers chairman Jeff Atkinson said, after several months of speculation, mill operator MSF Sugar had sent a memo stating the 2020 season was the last.

“This brings to an end all the uncertainty about will it shut or will it keep going,” he said.

MSF Sugar has agreed to a toll crush arrangement with the Isis Central Sugar Mill (ICSM) near Childers in 2021 and 2022.

ICSM chairman Peter Russo said they needed to build a trans-loader that would allow them to move Maryborough and Sunshine Coast sugar cane from trucks onto cane trains, but they need government support to do this.

“We’ve engaged with the State Government and Federal Government. I think both governments have been waiting for this announcement,” he said.

“No government’s going to look at any funding assistance unless there’s an absolute closure of a mill.”

Mr Russo said if they can lock in funding they can hit the ground running and build the new infrastructure before the crush starts next year.

“We’re confident all these things can happen in a timely fashion,” he said.

“We’ve done all the design work. We’re ready to push the button.”

Mr Atkinson said growers have a lot of work to do as well.

“They [growers] need to know how that infrastructure is going to work and that they [ICSM] can take the supply,” he said.

“Growers aren’t going to be left with cane in the paddock.”

Ongoing negotiations

MSF Sugar had a cane supply agreement with around 90 growers until the end of the 2022 season, which means until then they are going to pay the cost to get cane sent to ICSM and will pay a toll milling fee.

There is still uncertainty around what will happen after the two years are up.

“Under the obligation of the cane supply agreement, the growers here should financially be no worse off,” Mr Atkinson said.

“There’s a lot of things to go through and negotiations with the Isis mill beyond toll crushing.

“One of the positives here is that Isis needs more cane to survive. So as much as we need to go up there, they need us every bit as much.”

Mr Russo said they want to secure cane beyond 2022.

“It’s business as usual for all the Maryborough and Sunshine Coast growers for at least the next two years,” he said.

“This gives Isis time to negotiate a cane supply agreement with those growers for the future.

“That’s why we’re dealing with government to try and build the facilities, so once we do take the cane in our own right we will be in a financial position to be able to afford to bring the cane to the mill.”

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