Racecourse Projects delivered 400,000 tonnes of cane to Mackay Sugar and Wilmar Sugar mills

The highly successful Mackay district farming operation Racecourse Projects had its foundations in October 2013 and continues to grow from strength to strength.

Over time the company has invested in more than 5000 hectares of cane land in the Mackay/Plane Creek districts. Last year more than 400,000 tonnes of cane were delivered by the company’s four harvesting groups to Mackay Sugar and Wilmar Sugar mills.

Racecourse Projects is owned by majority shareholder Proterra Investment Partners, an American private equity company that invests in natural resources – agriculture, food, metals and mining – and owns sugar mills in Brazil.

Another major shareholder is Mackay Sugar Limited, which is Australia’s second largest sugar milling company, operating mills at Farleigh, Marion and Racecourse.

Operating partner for Racecourse Projects is George Williams, a fourth generation cane farmer who grew up on the family farm at Dawlish, just north of Sarina.

A qualified fitter and turner at Plane Creek Mill, Mr Williams’ aim was eventually going back on the family farm, which he still runs these days under a share farming agreement with the company.

While he doesn’t get to sit on a tractor much these days, he oversees four farm managers and sets the framework and overall direction of the operation.

Racecourse Projects employs up to 50 staff during the season and as a result has invested heavily in health and safety initiatives. Over the past eight years, the farms have all been converted to a 2.4 metre, 800 mm dual row, controlled traffic system.

“It’s an efficient system. There is less compaction than traditional methods, which will lead to improved water retention over time,” Mr Williams said.

“We only cultivate the ‘grow zone’ and our harvesters only have to travel 4166 metres per ha, saving over 2km per ha in travel compared with a 1.6 metre row farm setup. That’s 10,000 km per year.”

“This system also reduces the amount of turning at the end of the paddock. It has given us huge savings in fuel and labour. Using less horsepower by travelling slower also means a better quality cut with less damage to the stool, giving us improved ratoons.”

The farm machinery runs on GPS, and all chemical and nutrient records are electronic and come directly from the tractor. For the past three years the harvesters have had yield monitors fitted. The data the yield monitors provide allows inputs to be matched with yield potential within the paddock.

“We now have enough yield monitors to cover our entire property. This technology ensures we are not applying fertiliser where there are yield-limiting factors like water logging, grubs or just poor soil,” Mr Williams said.

“We believe that matching inputs to yield potential is good economics for the business and benefits the environment by maximising input utilisation.”

Cane is ratooned for six years, with a 15 per cent fallow factor. The variety selection is up to farm managers with only limited input from Mr Williams. They work with MAPS and an agronomist to determine the selection based on soil types and early/late harvest factors.

Soybeans are grown in rotation with the cane to reduce nitrogen requirements for top dressing and plant cane. The soybeans have been sold to market in previous years but where this has not been possible, they are ploughed back in as a green manure crop.

Currently there are two trials underway on the farms. The first is a multi-species trial over 12 hectares. This is looking at seedling viability and efficiency using an air seeder on a harvester during harvesting compared with using a wavy disc cultivator. Soybean crops have been planted in the trial as a control.

The second trial has involved using an app developed by CSIRO agricultural researcher Dr Peter Thorburn to look at reducing nitrogen rates late in the season for ratoons cut in October, for instance.

“For me, the ratoons we cut in October don’t have the same yield potential as the ratoons cut in June, so why are we putting on the same amount of nitrogen,” Mr Williams said.

“How far can we cut the nitrogen rate back in October without having an impact on yield? The initial results are looking good.”

The first priority for the company was obtaining Bonsucro accreditation in 2017. Now the company is working with Canegowers Mackay based agricultural economist John Eden to obtain Smartcane BMP accreditation this year.

“We need to do the work to prove to people that we have best management practice by keeping the records,” he said

“The actual farming practice in the paddock is the important part of BMP and we’ve been very focused on getting that right, rather than the certificate on the wall. We are constantly improving drainage and creating spoon drains and recycling pits as we fallow paddocks.”

Decision to access disaster recovery assistance after the 2019 floods pays off for Davies family

A decision to access disaster recovery assistance after a monsoonal trough wreaked havoc across North Queensland in 2019 has helped one Burdekin farming family get back on its feet.

Cane farms from Ingham to the Burdekin were inundated two years ago, as a monsoon trough brought an unprecedented deluge to the region.

After weeks of advocating for government assistance, the Accessing North Queensland Restocking, Replanting and On-Farm Infrastructure grant was formed to assist farmers.

The grant is focused on securing viability, maintaining business resilience and replacing lost crops and damaged infrastructure.

Burdekin cane growers Bruce and Natasha Davies operate on 81 hectares and are a true testament to the grant’s ability to assist disaster affected producers.

The grant allowed the family farming enterprise, Front Row Farming Co, to recover years earlier than it otherwise would have.

Bruce Davies and his son Alex tapped in to an Accessing North Queensland Restocking, Replanting and On-Farm Infrastructure grant to restore their 81-hectare Burdekin cane farm after they were hit by floodwaters in 2019.

Bruce Davies and his son Alex tapped in to an Accessing North Queensland Restocking, Replanting and On-Farm Infrastructure grant to restore their 81-hectare Burdekin cane farm after they were hit by floodwaters in 2019.

Two years on, Mr Davies said the enterprise “isn’t perfect”, but the grant allowed them to get back to business.

“We’ve put a big hole in the recovery and we’re operational, that’s the key thing,” Mr Davies said.

“The recovery would have been so much slower without the grant, it could have been five to ten years.

“We’re back to being operational and the grant has been of great assistance.”

Mr Davies said the grant allowed them to get to work, drawing down when seasons permitted.

“It’s very helpful to be able to draw down when seasons permit because we can’t do anything in the wet season here,” he said.

“We can’t put down pipelines, we can’t laser level paddocks, we can’t plant cane.

“We’ve been able to manage our cash-flow for the 50 per cent for the grant to match.

“Our income comes from production, so we needed to maximise the tonnes of cane we could produce.”

The Davies’ were referred to the grant via their accountant and started the application process.

 The Davies said the grant, administered through the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA) on behalf of the Australian Government, allowed them to get back to business.

The grant helped the family pay for repairs to subsidise concrete irrigation lines, plant soy beans to reduce soil salinity and laser level paddocks, as well as repair infrastructure like drains and headlands.

Mr Davies said it was important to access assistance to help ensure long-term recovery and viability efforts.

“It got us going full steam ahead whereas it would have otherwise taken years to be in this position,” he said.

“I would get in and get it done. If you can boost your own production you’re crazy not to.

“I would encourage growers to take advantage of the grant, it’s a no brainer and a tremendous opportunity.

“Look into it, it’s not that hard, it’s not onerous. We had the disaster and this is a way of fixing it for half price.”

We’ve got a good future, if you want to grow sugar cane this is the place.– Bruce Davies

Mr Davies said the future of the cane industry in North Queensland was positive.

“Production here is relatively stable and in 2021 we should be back to where we should be in terms of production,” he said.

“We’ve got a good future, if you want to grow sugar cane this is the place.”

Sugar millers focus on worker safety

Worker safety heads the agenda at the Australian Sugar Milling Council’s biennial safety conference, starting in Mackay today.

ASMC has set the theme for this year’s conference as Living and Leading Safety – It Starts with You!

The organisation represents 16 sugar mills in Queensland and NSW that collectively account for around 90 per cent of Australia’s raw sugar production.

More than 100 delegates from mills and associated sugar industry organisations will attend the two-day event.

ASMC chair John Pratt said the title emphasised that safety in sugar workplaces was a shared responsibility.

“Sugar mills are dynamic and complex environments but if everyone takes personal responsibility for their safety behaviour, whether it be individually or as part of a team, we’re confident we can deliver wider industry results second to none,” Mr Pratt said.

“While our reported data demonstrate that sugar industry safety performance is improving, we still lag other industry sectors.”

The conference features leading psychotherapists Jackie Furey.

“Jackie’s keynote address on the second morning, ‘A Check-Up from the Neck Up!’ will relate the importance of healthy minds to healthy workplaces, while our day one line-up also includes trauma counsellor, Paul Spinks, and emergency decision making expert Dirk Maclean,” Mr Pratt said.

ASMC chief executive David Pietsch said the conference provided the first opportunity since 2018 for sugar industry participants to network with their industry peers and share safety innovations due to the cancellation of last year’s conference caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The conference also allows ASMC to outline its key areas of focus including an ambitious trade and market access agenda and a vision for the revitalisation of the industry,” Mr Pietsch said.

Despite challenging weather conditions in 2020, Queensland’s sugarcane crop was up almost 1 million tonnes over the 2019 season with 29.33mt crushed by Queensland’s mills.

ASMC is seeking to grow sugar industry revenues from $2 billion to $3 billion by 2030.

Sweet achievement as Bundaberg company makes ‘world first’ cane harvester

A Bundaberg company says it has manufactured the world’s first sugarcane harvester powered by a Stage 5 diesel engine and hopes to develop an export market for them in Japan.

Canetec has been developing the machine for the past 12 months in response to requests from Japan for a small harvester suited to its small fields and environmental and carbon emission standards.https://46dd41f4b140105e9870b251e1390304.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Its chief executive officer Glenn Soper said the company had decided to take up the challenge and the first YT4000-F model harvester is now undergoing field trials in advance of its scheduled arrival in Japan on April 15.

“Their current small machine harvesters are very basic. They have open cabs and little to none of the technical capabilities of harvesters that we see in Australia,” Mr Soper said.

“Our (Japanese) customers were requesting a new (small) model that would fit with all their environmental parameters such as having a Stage 5 engine and being under 128 horsepower (95.44 kilowatts).

FIELD TESTING: The Canetec YT4000-F model harvester equipped with a Tier 5 engine being tested under field conditions last week.

FIELD TESTING: The Canetec YT4000-F model harvester equipped with a Tier 5 engine being tested under field conditions last week.

“The YT4000-F is 121 horsepower (90.2kW) so we have been able to deliver that as well and provide a huge upgrade in driver comfort, harvesting efficiency and the machine’s technical capabilities.”

Canetec is importing 4.5-litre QSB Tier 5 Cummins engines from the United States to power the machines which are capable of harvesting around 33 tonnes an hour.

Australia hasn’t yet regulated emissions from non-road engines but a number of overseas countries have moved to Stage 4 and are planning to go to Stage 5.

Project engineer Peter Lambrides said it had taken 12 months to build the new model due to worldwide shortages of materials because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The cabin and track system are from Europe and the engine came from the US but the rest of the machine has been built locally,” he said.

“All the sheet metal has been locally welded and put together and all the gearboxes are made here In Bundaberg.”

Canetec has been building large- and medium-sized harvesters in Bundaberg for more than a decade and exports a range of harvester models locally and to Japan and the Asia Pacific.

Fittingly, the company operates out of the old factory site of Austoft once owned by the Toft brothers who developed Australia’s first sugar cane harvester in the early 1940s.

Case IH bought their company in 1996 and in 2004 Austoft production moved from Bundaberg to global sugar powerhouse, Brazil.

Mr Soper said a group of locals who included Bundeberg legend Cliff Fleming, co-founder and owner of Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, decided to buy the site to keep manufacturing jobs in the south-east Queensland coastal town.

The company now shares the site with waste-collection truck maker Superior Pak which provides work for Cantec staff who also do other manufacturing and fabricating jobs for local customers.

The company now produces about one cane harvester a month but Mr Soper hoped the Japanese market for the small harvesters could reach 20 units a year.

“We think it’s going to be a volume machine,” he said.

Pest alert as FAW marches into cane

Cane growers and service providers are being urged to be on the lookout for signs of fall armyworm, following the first confirmed report of the pest in sugarcane.

Identified in a crop on the Atherton Tablelands late last month, the occurrence is thought to be as a result of a heavily-infested maize crop that bordered the cane.

Vigilance is key to managing the threat and responding appropriately, with growers and service providers encouraged to be on the lookout, particularly in blocks near corn/maize or other affected crops.

Early detection coupled with accurate diagnosis will assist with effective pest management decisions for affected crops.

Agrisciences Queensland (DAF) is the main point of contact for identification of potential fall armyworm and they can be contacted on 13 25 23.

The pest is now considered established in Australia, following detection at several sites including the NT, WA, New South Wales and recently in Victoria.

The fall armyworm page on the Sugar Research Australia website has a range of resources including details of the emergency use permits for Permethrin or Chlorantraniliprole to control fall armyworm

NSW Sugar Board Appointment

Thirty-nine-year-old Richmond River cane grower Marty Walsh has been elected as a Director on the NSW
Sugar Milling Cooperative Board.

Marty, his wife Donna and their three young children farm 110 hectares of cane land on their Coraki
property. In partnership with his parents Tom and Julie, the Walsh families grow sugarcane and soy bean
on a total of 440 hectares of land in the Richmond Valley area.

A fifth-generation cane grower, Marty has been involved in sugarcane farming all of his life and his
commitment to the NSW sugar industry also includes being an active member on the Richmond River Cane
Growers Association board.

Chairman of NSW Sugar and Sunshine Sugar Jim Sneesby said; “I am pleased to welcome Marty to the
board. He will bring a fresh approach and has proven to be a great asset to both the Richmond River Cane
Growers and the broader NSW sugar industry sector. I look forward to working with a grower who has
shown such great passion, commitment and vision to our industry.”

The NSW Sugar Milling Cooperative Board includes nine grower Directors, with three representatives from
each of the milling areas – the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence Valley.