The Maryborough sugar mill is likely to close after the 2020 crushing season, according to local state MP Bruce Saunders.

He said discussions had started with stakeholders to determine where the cane could be crushed.

“What I believe is happening is that the Maryborough cane for the next two seasons after this season will be crushed in Childers,” he said.

“The [Isis Central] mill has approached the Government with a request for some financial help to expand the mill.”

This comes after mill operator MSF Sugar, owned by Thai Company Mitre Phol, entered a deal to sell more than 5,000 hectares of cane farmland.

Under the deal, most of the land would be converted to macadamia orchards resulting in the mill losing a third of the cane it crushes on an annual basis.

MSF Sugar has a cane supply agreement with growers until the end of the 2022 season, meaning they are required, until then, to crush the cane or assist it being crushed elsewhere.

It is understood they might provide a subsidy to get the cane trucked to the Isis Central Sugar Mill.

Still a viable business

Maryborough Canegrowers chair Jeff Atkinson said they wanted some certainty as growers were left wondering if they should even plant this year.

A cane truck drives past a tall cane with dust billowing behind.
Discussions are underway to truck the Maryborough cane to the Isis Central Sugar Mill near Childers for crushing.(ABC Rural: Lara Webster)

“We will work with the milling companies to have a viable industry still in Maryborough,” he said.

“There are cane growers, the transporters and the harvester contractors — they’re all still a viable business.”

Mr Atkinson said sending the cane on trucks to ICSM was a feasible solution.

“One of the benefits we have is the Maryborough area has already been using road transport — so we do have some knowledge of how this all works,” he said.

But he said the logistics need to be worked out as the ICSM uses trains rather than trucks to transport cane to their mill.

Out of the 90 growers that supply the mill, a number come from the Sunshine Coast region.

Mr Atkinson said those growers had been left with no options.

“I believe it’s too far, to be honest, and that’s something that’s got to be sorted,” he said

“That’ll be an issue for MSF to sort out but long-term that’s not a viable option to bring the cane that far North.

“It’s a low-value product so once you start putting a huge freight cost on, it doesn’t stack up.”

End of an era

Mr Atkinson said the mill had stood proud for 126 years in the Maryborough township.

“That’s a long time to employ people. There’s been a lot of people have jobs there,” he said.

Mr Saunders said closing the mill could result in dozens of jobs lost.

“I’d say we’d probably lose over 60 direct jobs there. That’s going to have a profound effect throughout the community,” he said.

“In the middle of a pandemic, we cannot afford to lose any more jobs.”

In a statement to the ABC, MSF Sugar Company Secretary Brad Egerton confirmed discussions were underway.

“The company, together with other sugar industry stakeholders, has examined the various options for the crushing of cane that is grown in the region,” he said.

“However, I confirm that to date no decision has been made by MSF Sugar to cease operations at the Maryborough Mill.”

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