Qld cane crush on track for 30 milllion tonnes

Queensland’s cane crop is now tipped to reach almost 30 million tonnes, with the 2021 harvest and crush to start next week.

Australian Sugar Milling Council chief executive officer David Pietsch said 29.96mt was expected, exceeding the 29.33mt crush in 2020.

Queensland’s sugar mills manufactured 4.1mt of sugar last year.

“In February, ASMC was sceptical about the prospects for the 2021 crop to be bigger than 2020 with variable seasonal conditions, but we are now confident the crop will beat the 2020 and 2019 seasons and finish closer to 30 million tonnes,” Mr Pietsch said.

The tonnages remained well short of the Queensland milling sector’s crushing capacity of about 35 million tonnes.

“The improved crop signals somewhat of a recovery in industry confidence and highlights the ongoing importance of work across the sugar industry to improve productivity and continually drive efficiency through the production chain,” Mr Pietsch said.

“The 2021 crop forecast is good news for farmers, harvesters, transporters, suppliers, and for our sugar mill employees crushing the cane and manufacturing the sugar.”

The ASMC regional forecasts project:

– 6.72mt in the northern region (including Tableland, Mossman, Mulgrave, South Johnstone and Tully mill areas).

– 12.35mt in the Herbert-Burdekin region.

– 8.24mt in the Mackay-Proserpine region.

– 2.65mt in the southern region (including Bundaberg, Isis and Rocky Point mill areas).

Mr Pietsch said it was the first time in more than 125 years that neither the Bingera mill at Bundaberg or the Maryborough mill will be operating.

“Like other Queensland industries and businesses, the sugar industry had had to contend with the impact of COVID-19 on its local production and global markets,” he said.

“However, the sugar industry has hung tough and our relative stability now comes at a time of great uncertainty around sugar production among other global producers such as Brazil, India and Thailand.”

Calls to cut red tape around sugarcane industry

Government red tape needs to be slashed to increase Australia’s sugar production, with canegrowers and millers alike calling for a reduction of regulations.

The Australian Sugar Milling Council and Canegrowers have both taken aim at Queensland government red tape in recent days, with ASMC focusing on an industry revitalisatation strategy while Canegrowers continues to home in on reef regulations.

The ASMC has presented a comprehensive case to the Queensland government for

reducing regulatory overload to support the sugar industry’s revitalisation.

The push comes off the back of government red tape reduction plans, including the establishment of the Office of Productivity and Red Tape reduction within Queensland Treasury, and the release of the Queensland Productivity Commission’s Improving Regulation research paper.

ASMC Director, Economics, Policy and Trade David Rynne said the revitalisation agenda was based on three key pillars – increasing sugarcane and sugar yields while decreasing operational costs, increasing or at least maintaining canegrowing area and increasing revenue from complementary, diversified, value-added products.

“ASMC’s analysis of government regulatory interventions and cost impositions on the sugar industry make a compelling argument that cumulatively, domestic regulation is stalling industry revitalisation and a more sustainable future for the regional communities it supports,” he said.

Meanwhile Canegrowers has created an animation, available on YouTube, to explain the sugarcane industry battle against reef regulations.

“We have 80 per cent of sugarcane growers voluntarily engaged in a program, that is recognised internationally, to improve sustainability as well as cane farm productivity and profitability,” Canegrowers CEO Dan Galligan said.

“But government reef-focused reporting ignores that effort and tells the industry it’s failing – it’s no wonder growers are up in arms. It would appear growers are being set up to fail no matter what they do and how hard they work.”

Home Hill canegrower Owen Menkens said reef regulations were probably the biggest concern for most growers, with water and electricity prices also key issues.

“The reef regulations have definitely made it hard for a lot of growers to produce the best crops, especially where they are cracking down on nitrogen use whereby growers are reducing rates below what is profitable and productive,” he said.

“We’ve been calling on the government to look at reef regulations and electricity for a long time, so I hope they do and they take it seriously.”

Future Drought Fund investments for Queensland

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud and QLD Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Communities Mark Furner said the Future Drought Fund programs will support farmers and regions to build resilience to future droughts.  

“The $9.85 million Regional Drought Resilience Planning program supports partnerships of regional organisations, councils, communities and farmers to develop regional drought resilience plans,” Minister Littleproud said.     

“The plans will identify how to manage through droughts by finding ways to build resilience across agricultural sectors and allied industries. 

“Planning will be community-led and owned. It will bring regional knowledge and perspectives, along with the best available evidence and data. 

 “Australian farmers manage uncertainty daily and the business of farming is becoming more challenging,” Minister Littleproud said.

“The $16 million Farm Business Resilience program will give farmers access to subsidised learning and development opportunities to meet these challenges. 

“The program will take farmers’ knowledge and skills to the next level in risk planning, natural resource management, and personal and social resilience.

“It will also support farm business planning and access to experts and one-on-one advice.

“The Australian Government welcomes Queensland’s partnership in these important Future Drought Fund initiatives.”

Queensland will benefit from $4.4 million in Future Drought Fund funding for Farm Business Resilience and $1.8 million for Regional Drought Resilience Planning.  With Queensland’s contribution, total funding for the Farm Business Resilience Program will be $8.4 million, and for Regional Drought Resilience Planning $4.7 million.

Mr Furner said the Farm Business Resilience Program would benefit Queensland farm businesses in the grazing, cropping, mixed farming, sugar cane, dairy and tropical horticulture industries.

“The program has two elements; firstly, skills training will be offered for drought, climate preparedness and other business risks facing primary producers through an expansion of our Drought and Climate Adaptation Program,” Mr Furner said.

“Secondly, the Farm Management Grants Program will provide a rebate of 50 per cent to a maximum of $2,500 to primary producers towards the cost of developing a Farm Business Resilience Plan for their property.

“The Regional Drought Resilience Program will see plans developed in key drought prone regions that rely heavily on agriculture.  The program will be integrated with the regional plans being developed through the $2.7 million Queensland Strategy for Disaster Resilience.

“We’ll assist local governments to develop regional drought plans which builds on their existing resilience plans, or those under development. This approach will bring consistency around drought and natural disaster plans,” Mr Furner said.

For more details visit the Australian Government Future Drought Fund webpage agriculture.gov.au/fdf

The most current drought maps are available at https://www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au/

Notice of ACFA’s 2021 AGM

The 2021 ACFA AGM will be held:

Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Boardroom, Level 3, 183 North Quay, Brisbane, QLD 4000
Meeting Commencing at 9:00am

BUSINESS

  • Consideration of the financial statements;
  • Board remuneration, and
  • Reappointment of the Auditor

Any other business that may be properly brought before an annual general meeting will be special business and will require written notification to the company up to 48 hours prior to the meeting.

Members of ACFA are advised that you must be a voting Member of the Company in order to be entitled to vote at the AGM.

Members of ACFA are advised that a member who is entitled to attend and cast a vote at this meeting, may appoint a person as a member’s proxy to attend and vote for the member at the meeting. Each member may appoint one proxy. A proxy must be a member of the Company.

Please RSVP to the ACFA Offices by Friday, 11 June 2021, call 07 3211 0022 or email admin@acfa.com.au to register for the AGM

North Queensland farmer and soil health advocate remembered as visionary for sustainable farming

The Herbert River farming region is pausing to remember a “trailblazing” farming veteran who died last week in North Queensland, aged 81.

The son of Finnish immigrants, Matti Kangas lived on the same farm at Abergowrie, 130 kilometres north-west of Townsville, for 72 years.

He dedicated the last two decades of his farming career to improving soil health.

Mr Kangas identified that increasing soil biology and tackling the depletion of organic matter on his farm was critical to tackling a slump in crop yields — an issue across the sugarcane industry.

Herbert Cane Productivity Services manager Lawrence Di Bella first met Mr Kangas during a variety trial on his farm and described his contributions to local farming as “trailblazing”.

“We’d always get phone calls from Matti, researching stuff on the internet or chasing the science on soil,” he said.

Mr Kangas recently sold all but 1.4 hectares of the farm he was raised on, but continued to regularly attend field days and agricultural information events.

“He never really retired, he always had a passion and interest in farming in his 72 years in Abergowrie,” Mr Di Bella said.

Long-time friend Ian Kemp, another early adopter of soil health measures, said Mr Kangas was never afraid to speak out or accept risk when trialling new farming strategies.

“He was out there to do things differently and better — for the sugar industry he was a radical and upset a lot of the dyed-in-the-wool, straight down the line guys,” he said.

Nitrogen nodules on peanut roots.
Using peanuts to fix nitrogen in the soil on fallow canefields was one of Mr Kangas’ earliest soil health trials.(Karen Hunt: Rural Online)

Soil health paramount

Speaking recently to the ABC, Mr Kangas told of the huge crops, more than 35 tonnes to the acre, which were commonplace in the 1950s at his Abergowrie farm.

“We came here growing tobacco in 1948 when I was nine years old, then the sugarcane came in during the early 1950s,” he said.

“We had organic fertilisers, plenty of organic matter in the soil, not like it is today, this farm here was producing 35-36 tonnes to the acre — now it’s down to 25.”

Noticing the poor condition of soils that had been compacted by heavy machinery and exposed by cultivation, the farmer moved to cut out urea and slash organic matter into the soil at the turn of the 21st century.

Mr Kangas also turned to soil conditioners that increased microbial activity in the soil.

“Farmers can see it, smell it, feel it, the soil’s not the same – that’s got to do with the production going down,” he said.

Sugar cane in the foreground with a glass house in the background
Sugarcane yields are declining on a per hectare basis, leading farmers to seek answers in order to remain profitable.(Supplied: QAAFI Caro Martin)

New model needed

Mr Kangas was heartened in his later years by a growing focus on soil health from Sugar Research Australia and local extension provider Herbert Cane Productivity Services, but was adamant that making soil health pay was the key to the sustainable farming in Australia.

“The soil’s what grows your cane. We will not be able to afford to repair that soil when people find out what’s gone wrong, because it takes a long time,” he told the ABC.

“It’s going to boil down to dollars, and if you don’t have dollars, what do you do?”

With the global sugar price barely above production costs on his farm before selling, Mr Kangas said a new financial model to make cane farming pay was needed for farmers to remain viable.

“Food can run out, I just hope somebody will pick up this issue and do the right thing to keep people on the land,” he said.

Mr Kangas leaves behind his wife, two children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Millers say red tape limiting sugar’s growth

AUSTRALIA’s sugar production could be significantly increased to create jobs, generate better economic outcomes, and produce cleaner energy if government red tape was reduced.

That’s according to the Australian Sugar Milling Council, which has delivered a comprehensive case to the Queensland Government for reducing regulatory overload to support the revitalisation of the sugar industry.

ASMC economics, policy and trade director David Rynne said the industry was currently in a state of “regulatory overload”.

“Over the past 15 years the sugar industry has been subject to significant policy uncertainty and additional regulation and charges from a range of agencies and government-owned corporations,” Mr Rynne said.

In ASMC’s Sugar Policy Insightspublished this week, Mr Rynne said the sugar industry’s revitalisation was based on three key pillars:

  • Increasing cane and sugar yields, decreasing operational costs.
  • Increasing, or at least maintaining the area where sugarcane is grown.
  • Increasing revenues from complementary, diversified, value-added products.

“ASMC’s analysis of government regulatory interventions and cost impositions on the sugar industry make a compelling argument that cumulatively, domestic regulation is stalling industry revitalisation and a more sustainable future for the regional communities it supports,” Mr Rynne said.

“Revitalising the sugar industry will involve working closely with government departments across eight key areas including water and energy charges, access to capital, self-regulation incentives, improved land protections in state planning policy, revenue diversification incentives, better understanding the industry’s viability, and ensuring access to human capital.”

Mr Rynee said the industry was committed to supporting the Queensland Government’s red-tape reduction ambitions.

These have demonstrated by the establishment of the Office of Productivity and Red Tape reduction within Queensland Treasury, and the Queensland Productivity Commission’s publication of its Improving Regulationresearch paper, he said.