Fall armyworm update

Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) has been detected in several new locations in southern and southwestern Queensland over the past week, at the Lockyer Valley, St George and Chinchilla. This follows the recent detection of fall armyworm in northern New South Wales at Moree and Boggabilla near the Queensland border.

This expansion of range from northern and central Queensland is not unexpected as fall armyworm is highly mobile, with long-distance migrations facilitated by favourable meteorological conditions.

Fall armyworm was initially detected on the Torres Strait islands of Saibai and Erub in January 2020. Since then it has also been reported from numerous sites in northern and central Queensland including Bamaga, Croydon, South Johnstone, Tolga, Lakeland, the Burdekin, Bowen, Bundaberg, Emerald, Richmond, Clermont, Biloela, Mackay and Longreach.

Fall armyworm has also been detected in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Queensland is working with industry to find ways to address the serious threat posed by the fall armyworm to Queensland’s agriculture industry. In conjunction with industry, DAF now manages a statewide network of over 50 pheromone traps, monitoring local fall armyworm activity–an early warning system for growers and agronomists. This trap data is updated weekly and is available on the Beatsheet website.

Producers who think that they may have come across fall armyworm are strongly encouraged to photograph and report suspect sightings to DAF on 13 25 23 or to their local biosecurity officer or extension officer.

For more information, including the potential impacts of this pest and management advice for key crops, visit business.qld.gov.au/fallarmyworm.

Election puts grower interests in safe hands

CANEGROWERS says growers have a strong voice in an important role following the election of Babinda sugarcane grower and CANEGROWERS Cairns Region Chairman Stephen Calcagno to the Board of Sugar Terminals Limited (STL).

Mr Calcagno has been confirmed as the replacement for retiring director and Mossman grower Drew Watson on the STL board, joining Mackay grower Tony Bartolo who was elected by G-Class shareholders in 2018.

“I thank my fellow growers for their support and confidence at today’s STL Annual General Meeting,” Mr Calcagno said. “There is a lot of uncertainty around at the minute, but I see a bright future for this industry and I want to make sure that we make the best decisions possible for growers at all levels.

“STL owns Queensland’s bulk sugar shipping facilities so its management is critical to maintaining Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier of quality sugar to the world market.

“Along with that, the company must also provide a dividend to shareholders, many of whom are cane growers.”

CANEGROWERS Chairman Paul Schembri welcomed the election of Mr Calcagno to the STL Board.

“With Stephen Calcagno, growers interests are in safe hands,” he said. “He is an experienced representative dedicated to his fellow growers who is also open minded and forward-thinking, meaning he will work with other board members for the benefit of the company and the industry as a whole. I wish him well in his new role.”

Power price positive step but big issues remain

Sugarcane farmers’ group CANEGROWERS has welcomed as a win a new option to help Queensland irrigators manage high electricity costs but says more work is needed to fix all the issues in the power pricing system.

“The confirmation from the Queensland Competition Authority that a new control load tariff, called T34, will be available as a primary tariff to farmers from 1 November is a victory for irrigators and comes on the back of years of lobbying from CANEGROWERS and other farm groups,” CANEGROWERS CEO Dan Galligan said.

“I urge growers to carefully assess if T34 is right for them to ensure their business can benefit from a lower price for power but also not be affected by the risk of service delivery interruptions.”

CANEGROWERS is calling for the parties campaigning in the Queensland State Election to commit to a suite of agricultural electricity tariffs capped at 16c/kWh. T34 is close to that mark with a usage charge of 17.295 c/kWh and a daily fixed change of $1.18081 per day (both ex-GST).

Bundaberg grower Mark Pressler was part of a joint trial of the control load tariff run by CANEGROWERS and Energy Queensland and says he was impressed.

“The tariff delivered some worthwhile cost savings for my business and the service interruptions were manageable,” he said. “I’m looking forward to Ergon finalising its plan to send us text notifications so we know ahead of time when the power might be cut.”

While T34 is a positive step, Mr Galligan said it was not the solution to all of the problems with electricity pricing and CANEGROWERS would continue to campaign for an end to network gold plating practices and profit gouging by governments.

“Significantly more change is still needed to the electricity pricing system and we are calling on the Labor and Liberal National parties to commit to more action to improve affordability for farmers after the 31 October election,” Mr Galligan said.

“Successive Queensland Governments have used the electricity network as a cash cow and a form of farm business taxation by pulling out dividends worth up to $1.5 billion each year.

“Power companies have also been rewarded for overcapitalising on the network, what’s known as gold-plating. The network charge is about half of a power bill so when this goes up, profit margin of irrigators gets squeezed.

“Both of these systemic issues are yet to be addressed but if they are, and we see significant price cuts for irrigators across the board, production on farms will increase.”

The CANEGROWERS State Election 8-point plan lists the high costs of electricity and water as one of the obstacles holding the Queensland sugarcane industry back from realising its full potential.

Media comment: Dan Galligan | CANEGROWERS CEO | 0429 707 809

More information: Neroli Roocke | CANEGROWERS Communications | 0418 871 881

Note: The QCA has found indicative annual savings for typical users moving to T34 from other irrigation tariffs of:

$768 moving from T62

$1,116 moving from T65

$2,487 moving from T66

Supplementary review: Regulated retail electricity prices 2020–21

Sugarcane to hydrogen investigated

Final-year chemical engineering students at The University of Queensland are investigating how sugarcane can be used as a clean energy source to create hydrogen.

Professor Damien Batstone said bagasse and other agricultural residues were an abundant resource that could generate “green” or carbon-negative hydrogen at scale.

“One hundred and fifty students in 36 teams are analysing both thermal gasification, and the more cutting-edge ‘supercritical hydrothermal gasification’ method,” Professor Batstone said.

“The new approach looks promising, with the cost as low as one third that of the current options.”

The process uses waste biomass – crushed sugarcane stalks and leaf – to produce hydrogen for under $3 per kilogram.

Professor Batstone (right) said any carbon dioxide produced was captured, making the process carbon negative.

“The technology can be used with any waste biomass, including green waste and municipal waste streams, and the students’ economic models and design processes show it can be put into practise immediately,” he said.

“Adopting this new hydrogen production approach could have a tremendous impact on the sugarcane industry as farmers seek alternative uses for their crops and mill infrastructure.

“This offers an alternative pathway with potential for higher profits for canegrowers who may have considered exiting the industry, as well as job opportunities for regional areas and clear environmental benefits.

“The process allows sugarcane to be used in ethanol and plastic production, while fully utilising the biomass residues.”

Professor Batstone said agricultural residues were heated to between 400 and 1000 degrees Celsius to create “syngas”, then a series of conversion and separation processes generated pure hydrogen.

“It can be done at atmospheric pressure or at very high pressure in the presence of water,” he said.

“Gasification has been widely applied to coal processing but has not been applied to hydrogen production from biomass at large scale.”

Professor Batstone said the project required students to engage intensively with renewable energy and energy transformation, to give them an understanding of the industry’s key challenges at the outset of their careers.

“The federal government’s 2019 National Hydrogen Strategy identified hydrogen as a critically important future source of energy,” he said.

“It flagged creating hydrogen using fossil fuels at $3 per kilogram with significant carbon emissions, and non-fossil-based renewable electricity at significantly higher prices between $6 and $11 per kilogram.

“Industry professionals and UQ researchers are guiding the students in this emerging and vital field, and their work could have a real benefit for industry and the environment.”

Chemical and environmental engineering student Mr Kailin Graham said the project offered insight into real-life engineering work.

“Previous courses taught chemical engineering principles; this project required us to apply these as we would as engineers in the workforce,” he said.

“We engaged with the sugar industry and technology specialists, and it’s exciting to know that our work will have direct relevance to Australian industry.”

Professor Batstone said a position paper compiled from the teams’ findings would be made available to farmers and sugar companies for potential application in their businesses.

Bundaberg Sugar announces closure of 135-year-old Bingera sugar mill following low cane supply

The Bingera sugar mill near Bundaberg will not crush again as the mill operator Bundaberg Sugar Limited (BSL) says it will close the site this year.

Chief executive Guy Basile said BSL was streamlining its operation to just its Millaquin mill in Bundaberg.

“One thing has become clear; the Bundaberg region tonnage figures of the past years, including the 2020 crush, cannot justify BSL running two mills in the region,” he said.

“Millaquin is more than capable, thanks to our ongoing investments in the future of BSL.

“At the current crop size, BSL mills are operating at around only half capacity.”

Bingera mill had one of the worst seasons in its history, only crushing 450,000 tonnes of sugar cane.

The total BSL crush this year was just over 1 million tonnes, which was down from 1.8 million in 2016.

Consultations with workers

BSL management has started consultations with employees and unions across its whole operation.

As for growers, not much will change according to Canegrowers Bundaberg chair Allan Dingle.

“From what I understand the mode of transport for all growers to Millaquin mill will be the same as what it was previously,” he said.

“If you’re on a railway line service you’ll still be on exactly the same bin delivery system.

“Bundaberg Sugar has said all their contracts will be honoured.”

Mr Dingle said farmers still need more information from BSL.

“The only point, probably, that’s going to be an issue will be season length,” he said.

Mr Dingle said the news was difficult news for the industry.

“It’s really sad that that’s happened,” he said.

“That mill’s been operational for well over a hundred years.

“It seems to be a sign of the times in our local area; for whatever reason, the [other] crops are moving in.

“There’s quite a few of those growers that are still there that are committed to growing cane and will continue to grow cane.”

QSL 2020 AGM

Queensland Sugar Limited held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Brisbane this morning, with those in attendance joined by participants dialling in via video conference for the first time.

QSL Chairman Guy Cowan said the inaugural hybrid AGM format was reflective of the changed world ushered in by COVID-19.

“For an industry familiar with dramatic fluctuations and unexpected developments, it must be said that the past financial year certainly set a new standard for curve balls,” he said.

Mr Cowan said QSL had moved quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged to introduce measures to protect their logistics and sales activities, and used their strong lines of credit to maintain continuity of payment for their Miller and Grower members throughout this period of heightened uncertainty. 

“Throughout the global health and economic crisis which has dominated 2020, QSL has provided a continuity of service that has been integral to the Queensland sugar industry’s successful operations,” he said.

Mr Cowan said that while COVID-19 had shone a light on the strengths and value of QSL, it had also served as a reminder that QSL was more than just a sugar marketing and logistics company.

“QSL’s constitution states that our principal object is to promote the development of the Queensland sugar industry, and we are always looking for new ways we can do this,” he said.

Mr Cowan said current industry challenges, such as declining productivity, reducing land under cane and aging farmers, had caused QSL to look at how they may be able to assist the cane farming sector by attracting new and continued investment.

“These kinds of activities are not new, and we are currently evaluating a number of existing initiatives in other agricultural sectors, with the intent to apply these learnings where we can in order to identify and develop projects that attract investment to the Queensland sugar industry,” he said.

“While the challenges and opportunities vary in each region, our efforts are driven by a common requirement that any potential project must be done in a way that protects our pool returns and the important value we deliver to industry through this core business function. We look forward to working with our members and other stakeholders during the year ahead to identify new ways to add value to the industry we serve.”

Mr Cowan also used his Chairman’s Address to announce his retirement from the QSL Board at the end of the coming three-year term.

“My time on this Board has been both personally gratifying and enjoyable, and I genuinely look forward to working with my fellow directors and the wider QSL team to ensure a successful transition before finishing my time on the Board as of 31 December 2023.”

Key highlights from the 2019/2020 Financial Year include:

QSL Marketing

  • Remained the largest marketer of Queensland sugar
  • QSL-managed ICE 11 pools outperformed the market average by $14.64 per tonne IPS
  • The QSL Direct platform was extended to Far Northern Milling growers

QSL Operations

  • Extended the Strategic Operating Agreement with Sugar Terminals Limited (STL)
  • Received 3.62 million tonnes at STL’s six sugar terminals, unloading 43,190 trucks and 44,601 train wagons
  • Loaded 113 sugar ships and delivered 98% of shipments in full, on time and within specification

QSL Corporate Services

  • Renewed its finance facilities 
  • Launched a new price alert service on the QSL App

For further details regarding the 2020 QSL AGM, please click on the links below: