An 18-month stand-off over the way sugar will be sold into the export market may have finally ended, but growers and millers agree there are no winners after the bitter dispute.
Wilmar Sugar and the industry’s marketing body Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL) emerged from another marathon session with mediator Richard Chesterman QC on Friday, indicating the negotiations had concluded successfully.
The announcement came eight weeks after agreeing to an ‘in-principle’ deal on how growers’ economic share of sugar would be marketed.
Wilmar Sugar Australia executive general manager Shayne Rutherford said he expected to sign a GEI Sugar sales agreement as soon this week.
“We have a lot of of work to do with CSA’s [cane supply agreement] and we want to put this behind us now,” Mr Rutherford said.
In a statement to the ABC, QSL managing director and CEO Greg Beashel said he was “cautiously optimistic” of finalising and signing off on the contract by the end of the week.
Mr Rutherford said no grower would be worse off under the negotiated payment arrangement.
“Growers will be paid exactly the same way that they were in 2016… we will be paying growers based on their CCS relative,” Mr Rutherford said.
“As for between us and QSL, we have come to an arrangement behind-the-scenes that is acceptable to both parties and now we can make it work.”
Sugar deal paves the way for grower contracts
With the crushing season only weeks away, securing the on-supply agreement paved the way for Wilmar to finalise contracts with 20 growers collectives within the next two weeks.
“We are at various stages with a range of our major collectives; for example one of our major cane grower collectives signed a CSA in September last year, and others are not far behind,” Mr Rutherford said.
“We are looking forward to starting the crush and I think things will settle down once the cane starts coming in and growers can forward price with us or through their marketer of choice.”
With the indicative Australian sugar price slumping to $460 a tonne, Mr Rutherford said he expected some would be disappointed at the missed opportunity of locking in more lucrative forward contracts.
But he maintained growers always had the option of signing temporary contracts and those who did, had benefited from higher prices.
“But, there are really no winners in this situation and I understand it is disappointing for those growers who have missed out.
Relief for north Queensland growers
North Queensland canegrowers are relieved they can finally sign off on cane supply contracts for the next crop, which will start to be harvested in the next month.
Carmila West cane grower Rick Garnham said it was good news to have the long, bitter negotiations coming to an end.
“If we get going now, get contracts signed, crushing starts on time and money comes in, everything will look a lot better.
Canegrowers Mackay chairman Kevin Borg said growers were getting nervous but were relieved to hear the news of a breakthrough in negotiations.
“In the lead up to the crushing it does give us a fair sigh of relief to know that there is some certainty in leading up to the crushing,” Mr Borg said.
“I hope now there is good news that growers do get themselves back into the mode of supplying cane and just get on with it.”