Sugar crush reaches quarter-way milestone for Wilmar

Wilmar Sugar has reached a significant milestone for the 2020 crush having processed over a quarter of their estimated crop.

The company’s eight mills have now processed 3.93 million tonnes of cane, out of the 15.07 million tonnes they expect to crush.

This is despite wet weather delaying the start in most milling regions, with rain continuing to hamper the crush in some locations.

Wilmar’s general manager cane supply and grower relations Paul Giordani said widespread rain had put the brakes on crushing operations at all eight of their mills in late July.

More rain is forecast today and Mr Giordani said the company’s focus was on maximising cane supply and crushing operations as weather permits.

“Wet weather had a significant impact on harvesting operations during the latter half of July, causing all four Burdekin sites to shut down for several days,” Mr Giordani said.

He said all mills had resumed crushing and the region had crushed 2.25 million tonnes, or 28 per cent of their forecast 8.04 million tonne crop.

CCS has returned to pre-rain levels and was last week at 14.2.

Mr Giordani said rain has also delayed the crush in the Herbert.

“Rain has hampered harvesting and crushing operations since the season start, and we are closely monitoring our bagasse fuel levels,” he said.

“Omproved field conditions this week have resulted in more continuous cane supply and better daily throughputs.

“The Herbert crop is cutting close to original estimate.”

The Herbert mills have crushed 993,000 tonnes of the estimated 4.16 million.

Average CCS levels were at 12.21 this week, which Mr Giordani said was slightly below average but steadily rising.

At Proserpine, rain caused a few days of lost time in late July, but can supply is picking up as field conditions dry out.

“With more rain predicted this week, we postponed Wednesday’s planned maintenance stop in order to maximise harvesting and crushing opportunities,” Mr Giordani said.

He said the crop was cutting slightly above the estimate and they have crushed 636,000 tonnes of a forecast 1.62 million with average CCS sitting at 13.63 this week.

Mr Giordani said there had been a welcome spike in CCS levels at Plane Creek over the past fortnight as was at 13.63 this week.

“We’ve also seen welcome improvements in yield and the Plane Creek crop is cutting closer to estimate.”

Farmers launch class action over failed Paradise Dam

Frustrated Bundaberg farmers are in the process of launching a class action against the Queensland Government over the failure of Paradise Dam.

Bundaberg lawyer Tom Marland, Marland Law, said the class action focused on the alleged negligent management of Paradise Dam and deceptive and misleading conduct by the Queensland Government.

Mr Marland said the application was currently being drafted, which would be filed with the Supreme Court in the next few weeks.

The farmers have also engaged class action expert Douglas Campbell QC, and barristers Matthew Donovan and Justin Byrne to progress the class action.

Mr Marland said farmers would allege the State Government was aware of the potential deficiencies with the dam as early as 2005 and after floods in 2011 and 2013, failed to take reasonable steps to repair those deficiencies.

“Despite knowledge of deficiencies to the dam and potential risks of failure, the State Government through a government owned corporation, SunWater, continued to market and sell water from the dam up to September 2019 when it was announced that 100,000ML would be released from the dam and its capacity reduced to 42pc,” Mr Marland said.

“Sunwater undertook a public expression of interest process in September 2018 where it offered water for sale at a discount of up to 50pc of the market value of water being traded from the dam.”

Mr Marland said a report commissioned last year revealed the Bundaberg community would suffer a $2.4 billion loss over a 30 year period.

“We consider that the losses incurred will be much more significant than first estimates which did not include the reduction in property values associated with the reduction in water security in the Burnett system and also the loss of production from reduced allocations,” Mr Marland said.

“Impacts are already being felt in the Bundaberg community with this year’s water allocations being slashed to 70 per cent with the dam at 41pc.

“The whole region is still drought declared. Allocations could be zero per cent next year if we don’t get good rain over summer.”

Mr Marland said the pain endured by the Bundaberg community during the 2013 floods was used a way to scare people into thinking that the dam was unsafe, diverting attention from the government’s own negligence and mismanagement.

LNP Natural Resources Shadow Minister Dale Last said it was a disgrace that $100 million was being spent to reduce the height of the spillway by 6m in the middle of a major drought.

“Wide Bay Burnett farmers have been treated with contempt and the economic security of the region has been put at risk by the Palaszczuk Government,” Mr Last said.

“Tearing down dams in the middle of a drought shows there is no economic plan for the Wide Bay and doesn’t care about our farmers.”

Mr Last said the LNP would repair Paradise Dam, directing SunWater to work with international expert Dr Paul Rizzo on the design of the stabilisers. That recognised the work Dr Rizzo has carried out on Bagnell Dam in Missouri, which impounds Lake of the Ozarks, the largest man-made lake in the US, he said.

More upstream and downstream water storage options, would also be investigated.

Cane farm losses expected from macadamia takeover in sugar town Maryborough

More than 5,000 hectares of sugarcane farmland in Maryborough will be converted into a macadamia orchard and space for other crops.

It has been revealed that Rural Funds Management (RFM), a specialist agricultural fund manager with 1,500 investors, entered a deal to buy MSF Sugar’s land holdings with plant equipment and water entitlements for $81.1 million.

RFM Chief Operating Officer, Tim Sheridan, said they would progressively convert the land.

“RFM expects employment in the area to benefit from a multiplier effect from developing and operating macadamia orchards, as should local suppliers,” he said.Want more local news? Subscribe to the Wide Bay Weekly email newsletter.

Is the Maryborough Mill viable?

While the deal does not include the mill itself — this loss of cane farmland brings into question the viability of the mill, as it will lose around a third of the cane it crushes.

Canegrowers Maryborough Chair, Jeff Atkinson, said they were waiting to hear what this meant for their supply agreement ending in 2022.

“They have to crush that cane in some form in some way,” he said.

“That’s the detail we need to know — are they going to continue to do it presently through the Maryborough sugar mill? Or have they got some alternative arrangements?”

Around 90 growers supply the Maryborough mill with cane from the Sunshine Coast.

Canegrowers there have said this sale marks the end of the line for an industry that was once the economic powerhouse of the region, sustaining more than 50 families.

Since Nambour’s Moreton Mill closed in 2003, around a dozen remaining growers have been trucking their cane around 150 kilometres north with the support of the Maryborough mill.

“Until February this year the word from MSF Sugar was: ‘grow cane, grow cane, grow cane’,” Paul Petersen, a third generation sugar grower at Maroochy River, said.

His father, Garry Petersen, said MSF had been very good to them up until that point — and the family had been looking to expand by buying land closer to the mill.

“All of a sudden, they’ve just given us a kick in the guts and we’re pretty gutted, we don’t know what to do,” Garry Petersen said.

“We’re sitting on land that is worth quite a bit so I think our next option is to probably start putting bits and pieces on the market.”

MSF Sugar evades the question

In a statement to the ABC, MSF Sugar Company Secretary, Brad Egerton, said this sale would allow them to focus on increasing the efficiency of its sugar production operations.

An aerial view of cane fields.
The land was offered as offered as a lump sum to one buyer, leaving local cane growers feeling left out.(Supplied)

“MSF Sugar is committed nonetheless to doing all that is necessary to ensure that the 2020 season is a successful one for the Maryborough mill,” he said.

“The immediate priority is therefore the 2020 season and questions which you have asked relating to future operations are perhaps best left until such time as the results of the forthcoming season are known.

“MSF Sugar will engage with potentially affected workers, government and the incoming operator over the course of the coming months to pursue solutions.”     

Settlement of the deal is expected to happen in October this year.

RFM buys MSF Sugar’s Maryborough cane land for $81.1 million

Rural Funds Management has emerged as the buyer of 5409 hectares (13,366 acres) of farmland around Maryborough, owned by Thai-owned company MSF Sugar.

In a statement issued to the ASX today, RFM (ASX: RFF) said it had contracted to buy the farmland, plant and equipment and 8060 megalitres of water for $81.1 million.

The contract is expected to be settled in October.

The deal puts the longer future of the Maryborough sugar mill and its 90 farmer supplies under a cloud, as a significant amount of the land will be converted to macadamias.

“RFM intends to progressively convert the farms to approximately 2200ha of macadamia orchards, with a substantial portion of the remaining area able to be used for cropping,” the statement to the ASX reads.

“RFM is in discussions with several potential lessees and will provide further details of the agreed development program in due course.”

About a quarter of the MSF Sugar farmland is leased to farmers.

“RFM will will seek to lease the balance of the cane farms which are currently operated,” the statement reads. “The transaction will include a two year off-take agreement in respect to the cane produced on the farms, or a reduction in the purchase price.”

The RFM statement said the transaction included an opportunity to purchase additional water rights.

Maryborough Canegrowers chairman Jeff Atkinson said he was still be contacted by either MSF Sugar or RFM regarding the sale.

“It’s a bit of wait and see at the moment, but hopefully we’ll know a lot more soon,” Mr Atkinson said.

RFM said the purchase would be funded from an approved increase in RFF’s debt facility. The forecast FY21 11.28c/unit distribution remained unchanged.

RFM is understood to have about $900m worth of farmland under management in Australia.

MSF Sugar is owned by the Mitr Phol Group, the world’s fifth largest sugar producer. MSF Sugar has operated in Australia since 2012.

Bundaberg farmers take Queensland Government to court over Paradise Dam

Farmers in the Bundaberg region are launching a class action against the Queensland Government.

They’re alleging “negligent management and deceptive and misleading conduct” in relation to the handling of Paradise Dam on the Burnett River.

Last September, dam operator Sunwater and State Government announced the dam wall would be lowered by 5 metres for safety and stability reasons.

Lawyer Tom Marland, who is acting on behalf of 2,500 claimants, said the State Government was aware of potential structural issues at the dam not long after it was built in 2005.

“We’ve been trying to work with the State Government since September last year to try and get common sense in relation to the management and future management of Paradise Dam,” he said.

“The political process has failed the Bundaberg region and all of those hardworking farmers that rely on the water from Paradise Dam.”

The legal action follows the judicial review that was filed to the Supreme Court earlier this year in a bid to stop work going ahead on the wall.

“The class action is for the damages and losses which are going to occur as a result of the loss of that water,” Mr Marland said.

Mr Marland said the class action was also against alleged mismanagement.

“There have been millions of dollars of investment poured into this region directly because of the water reliability of Paradise, and there is going to be billions of dollars of lost productivity as a result of the lost water,” he said.

‘Thousands of jobs on the line’

Bundaberg region macadamia and avocado grower Craig Van Rooyen said thousands of jobs were at risk if work continued at the dam.

“We have tried on many occasions to bring sense to this matter but we’ve now unfortunately had to go to class action,” Mr Van Rooyen said.

“As growers and as a community we want this dam remediated to full capacity so that it is safe for the community and also water to supply and grow the region because, at the moment, there are hundreds of millions of dollars on hold waiting to see what happens and that’s thousands of jobs on hold.

“If that wall keeps coming down we are going to lose thousands of jobs not just in agriculture.”

The class action is due to be filed in coming weeks.

Farmers say environment minister’s Great Barrier Reef claim is 10 million times wrong

QUEENSLAND farmers say Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch has again made the fake claim that 10.5 million tonnes of nitrogen is flooding into Great Barrier Reef receiving waters each year as a result of fertiliser used on farms.

Bundaberg Canegrowers manager Dale Holliss said the fake claim was also made in September 2019, just days before the Palaszczuk government pushed through the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Act.

“We believe the minister, speaking on ABC’s Country Hour program, meant to say she believed 10,500 tonnes of nitrogen entered the GBR inshore reef catchments each year, but instead said 10.5 million tonnes,” Mr Hollis said.

“It has suited her to push the reef regulations onto farmers based on unchecked science, and on this 10 million tonne figure she knows to be blatantly untrue.

“To support ongoing misinformation being used to demonise Australian farmers is indefensible.”

The push back by farmers against the Palaszczuk government comes as a two day Senate inquiry into reef regulations begins in Brisbane on Monday (July 27).

To support ongoing misinformation being used to demonise Australian farmers is indefensible.– Dale Hollis, Bundaberg Canegrowers

The latest call for Ms Enoch to come clean on fake figure also follows a furore this week where the Palaszczuk government attempted to initiate one of the controversial clauses in the new reef regulations laws.

“This clause has given the State Government the power to acquire from anyone who works with or for farmers, records about farm businesses,” said Mr Hollis, who also is a director of the National Irrigators Council and holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Management.

“When questioned by the media, it immediately backflipped and withdrew a tender process designed to put the newly acquired power into action.

“The Reef Regulations Amendment Act 2019 delivers regulation by stealth, with a lack of parliamentary scrutiny built in and powers given instead to unelected bureaucrats and the executive.

“This is a very dangerous power the government has given itself, from the perspective of all Queenslanders.”

Fact check

Bundaberg Canegrowers executive officer Tanya Howard said detailed research proved Ms Enoch’s 10.5 million tonne claim could not be substantiated.

Bundaberg Canegrowers executive officer Tanya Howard says Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch cannot substantiate her 10.5 million tonne claim.

 Bundaberg Canegrowers executive officer Tanya Howard says Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch cannot substantiate her 10.5 million tonne claim.

“The total sales of nitrogen in Queensland as determined by Fertiliser Australia in 2017 was 187,414 tonnes, and this includes nitrogen used in grain and cotton cropping which are not significant players in the reef catchments,” Ms Howard said.

“This is more than 10 million tonnes away from the minister’s allegation that 10.5mt of nitrogen are flowing into waters that enter the fringes of the Great Barrier Reef.

Fertiliser Australia records for all fertiliser products used in Queensland in 2017 totalled less than 1mt.

“In addition, it has been made clear any reach would be limited to the tiny inshore reefs, which make up around one per cent of the 344,000 sq km of the Great Barrier Reef.

“To put some perspective on the amount of nitrogen fertiliser found in the waters of the inshore reefs of the GBR, 10,500t would equate to the weight of 5c to 10c piece in an Olympic swimming pool. It is so miniscule as to be almost untraceable.”

Ms Howard also pointed out that cane farms, strongly targeted by Labor over the issue of alleged fertiliser run-off, are on the wane.

“Australian Sugar Milling Council figures shows that in 2014 there was 363,339ha of cane harvested in Queensland, but by 2019 this has dropped by 13,257ha,” she said.

“This is just yet another sign of the Australian farmers who are putting 88pc of all food and drink on every table across the nation being pushed to the wall by the rising tide of unwarranted red tape. It has to stop now.”


Bundaberg Canegrowers is part of a consortium of farmer groups running a petition under the banner of #farmersfeedus. It wants the Queensland Government to revoke the 2019 Reef Regulations Amendment Act and establish an Office of Science Quality Assurance to check the science being used to make political decisions.

The petition, launched in State Parliament just last month, has already gained almost 5000 signatures from voters across urban and regional areas.