MSF Sugar’s South Johnstone Mill expects to crush 1,732,500 tonnes of sugarcane for the 2018 season, with operations scheduled to commence on Tuesday 12 June.
A total of 303 growers will supply the Mill in 2018, with 42 harvesting groups working to harvest sugarcane from around 22,000 hectares located across the region.
With three major flooding events taking place across North Queensland during October, February and March, the estimated crush of 1,732,500 remains positive and is well above 2017 season levels when 1,522,493 tonnes were crushed by the Mill.
South Johnstone Mill Manager Kim Kendall said that while the severe weather conditions were not out of character for a North Queensland wet season, the impact on yields may still be felt by individual growers whose crops were inundated by rain during a critical time in the growing cycle.
“The 2018 crop has experienced significant rainfall over the past 6 months and even when not in flood, the rainfall levels were high with over 2 metres experienced in March 2018 alone. This has had an impact on yield for some individual growers in the South Johnstone growing region whose sugarcane growth was stunted by waterlogged fields, combined with significantly lower sunlight levels during March.
“As we look to the season ahead we are hopeful of lengthy periods of sunshine to minimise the impact of wet weather on the harvest. Long season length leads to extremely high wear on critical plant and high levels of trash in the cane can cause reliability issues at the Mill.
“Last season, while we had an average sized crop for our operations, we did experience reliability issues with our No.5 Mill which impacted on season length. We have since taken steps to upgrade our equipment significantly with $670k invested in the No.5 Mill alone” Mr Kendall said.
During the non-crushing season more than $11.5 million has been spent on capital and maintenance improvements, predominantly using local engineering, support businesses and labour, to ensure that known reliability issues were addressed.
This includes significant investment such as $2.3 million on the replacement of the Boiler No.3 Chimney Stack and continuing with the $6.5 million upgrade to the South Johnstone Cane Bin fleet.
Other major initiatives include the replacement of Calleja’s cane rail bridge, upgrades to the girders on the Russo cane rail bridge, locomotive transmission overhauls, and significant improvements to site workshop facilities and site safety systems to improve working conditions for the 271 people directly employed by South Johnstone Mill during the crushing season.
From 12 June the 2018 crush will operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and based on an operating rate of 540 tonnes per hour, is expected to run for around 22 weeks.
With overall weather conditions currently favourable for growers, attention will soon turn to the all-important Commercial Cane Sugar (CCS) results, which provide an estimate of the sugar yield from cane supplied to the Mill. The most dominant sugarcane varieties for the South Johnstone growing region are Q200 and Q208.