Marketing deadline looming

Queensland cane growers are reminded that they only have until 31 October to choose which sugar marketer they would like to use for next season.

Since the introduction of Marketing Choice in 2017, growers have been able to choose whether they wish to use their miller or their industry-owned marketer, Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL), for pricing, payment and marketing services.

QSL’s Marketing General Manager Mark Hampson said strong prices on the ICE 11 raw sugar market had already seen high levels of growers complete the marketing nomination process in order to access grower-managed pricing for next season, with 2023-Season prices now also drawing increasing interest.

“Growers appreciate that it’s been four years since we’ve seen raw sugar prices at these sorts of levels, and so they’ve been very busy making the most of it by undertaking forward pricing,” Mr Hampson said.

“We’ve seen QSL growers lock in record levels of pricing this year and next season is already heavily priced, with $560/tonne gross actual the highest 2022-Season Target Price order filled to date, and $575/tonne gross actual filled against the July 2022 contract in our Individual Futures Contract option.” 

Mr Hampson said 2023-Season pricing had hit the $500/t gross actual mark late last month against the July 2023 contract, while the highest grower pricing achieved for the 2024 Season was currently $465/tonne gross actual against the July 2024 contract.

“After three consecutive seasons where the average market price was less than $390/tonne and then climbed to just $429/tonne last season, it’s fantastic to not only see strong prices but have them extend across multiple seasons, enabling growers to potentially lock in profitable prices for the crops to come,” he said.

QSL, a not-for-profit, has Australia’s largest range of sugar pricing options for cane growers, enabling growers to price as little as 10 tonnes on the international ICE 11 raw sugar market.

Mackay biorefinery pilot plant ready for take-off

World-leading technology has landed in Mackay, bringing Queensland one step closer to a $1 billion sustainable, export-oriented industrial biotechnology and bioproducts sector.

Mercurius has finalised commissioning and is about to commence operations at their pilot plant that will use their patented REACHTM technology to produce valuable renewable chemicals, diesel and jet fuel from sugarcane waste.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Mackay, which is in the heart of sugarcane country, was the perfect place for this trial to take place.

“I first met with Mercurius on a trade mission to the United States in 2017,” the Premier said.

“They were attracted to Queensland because of my government’s commitment to developing a biofuels industry here.

“This project signals the start of a new industry for the region which means local jobs and further strengthens Mackay’s credentials as a leading biorefinery location.

“The plant at the Queensland University of Technology’s Biocommodities Facility in Mackay will be fully operational over a three-month period.

“My government has helped get this project off the ground, providing support through the Jobs and Regional Growth fund.”

Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert said it’s an exciting time for the region with the project providing jobs for around 30 people.

“It’s great to see equipment finally here and being commissioned,” she said.

“I’m proud that Mackay is now going to be looked at on a world stage during this three-month trial.”

The technology converts a range of biomass feedstocks into:

highly price-competitive, renewable ‘drop-in’ fuels that can be tailored for use in jet and diesel engines (unlike biodiesel, the fuel requires no modification for retail sale)
renewable chemicals for bio-based industrial plastics such as bottles, textiles, food packaging, carpets, electronic materials and automotive applications.
The REACH™ process avoids the need for the use of pure sugars, high operating temperatures and high pressures, resulting in faster conversion rate and lower cost of production than current processes.

Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development Steven Miles said the project was only the beginning for Queensland’s biofutures sector.

“We will bring more high-value jobs to the regions and make more things in Queensland,” Mr Miles said.

“The industrial biotechnology and bioproducts sector will attract significant international investment and create regional, high-value and knowledge-intensive jobs in manufacturing.

“Regions like Mackay are perfectly placed to take advantage of the opportunities this industry presents.

“If the operations are successful Mercurius will also prepare studies for another demo facility to be based in regional Queensland which would scale up production leading to even more jobs.

“Supporting projects like this is part of the Queensland Government’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan.”

Representatives from QUT will work alongside Mercurius to examine the technology and valuable by-products to enhance commercialisation opportunities in Queensland.

Mercurius CEO and Technology Development Director Karl Seck has been in Mackay assisting in site preparations for the pilot equipment installation and commissioning.

“Queensland was the best location for us to run this pilot plant and we hope to see success so we can move forward with plans for a larger demonstration plant,” Mr Seck said.

“The potential broader economic and environmental benefits derived from our REACHTM technology is significant for both the region and the low carbon intensity biofuel industry and we are excited to get started here in Queensland.”

Project leader from QUT’s Centre for Agriculture and Bioeconomy and Advance Queensland Research Fellow Dr Darryn Rackemann welcomed the progress on the project.

“This is transformative technology and to be part of the pilot process is fantastic”, Dr Rackemann said.

“QUT will be looking into the commercial opportunities from the REACHTM technology which could lead to producing renewable fuels and chemicals in Queensland creating new jobs and opportunities for regional communities.”

This project has been funded through the Jobs and Regional Growth fund and aligns with the Queensland Government’s Biofutures industry development roadmap and action plan to support and inspire Queensland businesses secure their share of the global bioproducts and services market.

Partnership to develop sugarcane industry roadmap

Charting a prosperous future for the industry and regional communities

Sugarcane industry peak bodies and the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) are partnering to develop the first whole-of-industry shared vision and roadmap to 2040.

The Sugarcane Industry Roadmap will adopt a best-for-industry view to identify significant opportunities to drive sustainability, growth and prosperity of the industry and regional communities into the future.

CRCNA Chief Executive Officer Anne Stünzner said the roadmap will identify the future forces likely to impact the industry, establish agreed priorities and provide insight into the skills, resources, innovation and infrastructure needed for future success.

“For more than 100 years, the sugarcane industry has been a major economic and social contributor to regional communities across Queensland and northern New South Wales and has demonstrated a thirst for innovation and new technology,” Ms Stünzner said.

She said industry organisations have recognised the need to complement and enhance the traditional raw sugar production model to improve productivity and diversify revenue sources.

“While the industry faces economic, environmental and social challenges, there is significant opportunity to expand to become a multi-product, ‘sugar plus’ industry with potential for alternate markets such as biofuels and bioplastics,” Ms Stünzner said.

The roadmap initiative has the joint backing of five sugarcane industry organisations – Sugar Research Australia, CANEGROWERS, the Australian Sugar Milling Council, AgForce and the Australian Cane Farmers Association – with funding also provided by the CRCNA and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Sugar Research Australia Chief Executive Officer Roslyn Baker said the project will involve extensive engagement across the sugarcane industry value chain to co-develop a plan for the future.

“The roadmap will address both the immediate enhancements and improvements that can be made for a stronger industry, as well as longer-term opportunities to enter new markets, to diversify into new crops and products, and alternative uses for core industry assets,” Ms Baker said.

She said the roadmap will support the industry to bring to life a vision relevant to all sugarcane regions while cultivating greater agility to embrace local opportunities.

“This initiative is about generational change and putting industry in the driver’s seat to build an exciting and prosperous future,” Ms Baker said.

Stakeholder engagement sessions are underway. The roadmap is due to be finalised in early 2022.

Regional industry: How Wide Bay Burnett loses and wins

The Wide Bay Burnett region about three hours’ drive north of Brisbane has mastered the art of keeping skilled workers after industries shut by gaining new employers. It is also trying to recruit people, including students and grey nomads, to help industry and farmers deal with shortages due to Covid border closures.

Its city of Maryborough has lost its MSF Sugar mill and about 75 jobs this year after 126 years of operation but it is keeping its Downer train manufacturer and gaining a defence artillery-shell factory being built by a partnership between Germany’s Rheinmetall and Brisbane small-arms company NIOA.

MSF Sugar was forced to shut its mill at Maryborough by a broad decline in the sugar industry and falling cane supply in that region – but one reason for that was Rural Funds Management’s purchase of 5409 ha of MSF Sugar’s cane land for planting with lucrative macadamia nuts.

The director of regional development for Wide Bay Burnett, Scott Rowe, says the mill closure “could have knocked the confidence out of the region. But the munitions facility, the venture with Rheinmetall, has been a really positive thing and gained national and international interest.’’

Rowe, who manages the local agency of Regional Development Australia, says the majority of mill workers were picked up not only by local manufacturers but also the munitions facility.

“Our region also has three major meatworks, and the Swickers Kingaroy Bacon Factory is the largest pork-processing facility in the southern hemisphere.’’

Maryborough currently has the lowest rental vacancies in Queensland, and our meatworks are having to buy up houses to try to attract and retain workers, he says.

“We are also the largest softwood producer in Queensland and our timber workers are putting in 24/7 just to keep up.’’

The region, which includes Bundaberg, Kingaroy and Hervey Bay, already has a diverse economy with health care and social assistance the highest employer so in a way Covid helped keep jobs, Rowe says.

“Agriculture, food and beverage manufacturing have really held on. But tourism, hospitality, retail – like everywhere else – have been knocked around,” he says.

“Water will always be the greatest issue for regional Queensland, but workforce is probably No.2 at the moment.

“Our citrus crops have only been picked once instead of twice this season due to the shortage; workforce is a real problem.

“An aircraft manufacturer in Hervey Bay is trying to get people in from overseas. The Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island is operating at 70 per cent capacity due to an inability to attract workforce.

“We’re trying to close the gap by putting in regional jobs committees that are working with industry, and helping forecast what they’re going to require in skilled labour. TAFEs and training centres and universities are collaborating to try to close that gap.

“We’re even trying to get school kids to get friends together in holidays and pick fruit, and getting grey nomads up and into caravan parks and put a bit of jingle in their pocket to help with the [farm] pick. They’re trying everything they can but we need those overseas workers and tourists back.’’