Maryborough’s 150 year-old cane industry is under threat unless new water storage is built to save growers crippled by some of the worst drought conditions in 100 years.
MSF Sugar, which owns and operates Maryborough Mill, and the Fraser Coast’s 100 sugarcane growers, have joined forces to lobby the State and Federal Governments to fund a new off-stream water storage facility.
The Fraser Coast sugarcane industry will use next week’s Queensland Government Community Cabinet visit to Wide Bay (11 to 15 September) to press for action.
MSF Sugar’s General Manager Maryborough Stewart Norton said water was the backbone of agriculture in the Fraser Coast region.
“Water is critical to a secure, sustainable sugarcane industry, but at the moment our industry is under real threat,” Mr Norton said.
“Our parent company, Mitr Phol, has major expansion plans earmarked for Maryborough Mill, the cornerstone of which is a co-generation plant.
“But the significant investment of around $100 million is highly dependent on an increase in cane production, which means water security through additional storage capacity is a priority.”
The industry is supporting SunWater’s proposed Glendorf Off-Stream Storage (OSS), a 6,000 megalitre capacity storage located adjacent to the Mary River along the ponded area of Mary River Barrage.
Mr Norton said the storage would provide enough water security to produce an additional 60,000 to 100,000 tonnes of cane per year, meaning more certainty, more jobs and more economic benefits for the region.
Jeff Atkinson, who grows 220 hectares of cane at St Helen’s, northeast of Maryborough, and is chairman of CANEGROWERS Maryborough, said the current situation was dire.
“We have a storage system that was built many years ago but as the industry has grown, irrigation methods have improved and more people are wanting to irrigate, the storage capacity is not there,” Mr Atkinson said.
“Growers are not going to keep battling against drought and the crippling effects of dry conditions unless we find a solution.”
Mr Atkinson said consecutive dry years had a devastating effect on the region’s cane, with this year’s crop badly battered during some of the worst growing conditions seen in 100 years.
“Cane is our region’s biggest commodity, so any negative impact on it would have far-reaching impacts on our town and the hundreds of jobs the industry supports,” Mr Atkinson said.
“For example, growers were unable to forward price their cane last year, as they could not commit to deliver the crop without a secure and sustainable water supply.
“I worry any planned expansion plans by MSF Sugar will not go ahead unless there is investment in critical infrastructure like water storage. ”
Mr Atkinson said while the proposed Glendorf storage facility would secure the long-term future of the cane industry, it would also benefit other industries including macadamias, pineapples and ginger. He said a secure water supply would give growers the confidence to expand cane plantings.
Mr Norton said while it was encouraging to see the Queensland Government list water storage for Maryborough on its 2017 Budget Wishlist, action was needed now.
MSF Sugar representatives will meet with government ministers on Monday 11 September, 2017.
FAST FACTS – The Fraser Coast sugarcane industry
• Nearly 500 people employed across farming, logistics, milling and supply.
• Injects more than $50 million annually into the region.
• 600 families are supported by the industry.