Confidence amid challenges as Policy Council meets in Mackay
CANEGROWERS Chairman Paul Schembri has told the organisation’s Policy Council there are many reasons for sugarcane growers to be confident about the future.
Mr Schembri has opened a meeting of the Council in Mackay with representatives of every cane growing region in Queensland attending.
“This is an industry that is growing,” Mr Schembri said. “We are in our ninth consecutive year of production growth, prices on the world market are strong and our industry is a $2.5 billion dollar contributor to the Australian economy.
“Importantly for CANEGROWERS, we have seen headway in the marketing dispute that has been running for 1080 days in our industry, with many sleepless nights for growers in between,” Mr Schembri said.
Last week Wilmar and QSL announced they had high-level agreement towards a crucial contract that will pave the way for Cane Supply Agreements incorporating marketing choice for farmers in Wilmar milling areas.
“I want to pay tribute to all of you,” Mr Schembri told the Policy Council members. “Your determination has been unyielding and it should not weaken while the legal panel beating moves the agreement into contractual words.
“If we had not taken up the fight we would have been where our forebears were in 1914 as price takers for our cane, instead we have protected our right to marketing choice.”
Mr Schembri said the challenges ahead for the 2017 season included the need to still finalise grower-miller agreements in the four Wilmar Sugar regions and the dry summer and drought conditions in southern districts and the Burdekin.
“Our growers in the Bundaberg, Isis and Maryborough regions are revising their projected yields down each week there is no rain,” Mr Schembri said.
The Bundaberg district has been declared in drought, joining the Burdekin, and applications are underway for individual property declarations in other regions.
Delegates to the CANEGROWERS Policy Council have reported high levels of stress among growers facing huge electricity bills for irrigation. Some may reach $60,000 - $100,000 per farm for the quarter.
“Growers have been irrigating through the heat, where water is still available, to try to keep crops alive when usually they would be growing strongly with summer rain,” Mr Schembri said.
As the CANEGROWERS Policy Council meets in Mackay, the local milling company Mackay Sugar is more than $200 million in debt and considering a levy of $3 per tonne on growers to help it.
"CANEGROWERS is mindful of the difficulties being experienced by mackay sugar and its growers,” Mr Schembri said. “This is the largest grower-owned milling company in Australia and we hope that growers and Mackay Sugar itself can find a strategy to overcome its serious financial situation.”