Recently, I was in Mackay for the funeral of local CANEGROWERS CEO Kerry Latter, who died following a short battle with cancer.
A friend and colleague, Kerry was a passionate and doggedly determined advocate not just for growers and the sugarcane industry more widely, but also for his local community.
He was a hugely respected member of the CANEGROWERS family and played a significant role in developing important industry policies.
Attending the service to celebrate Kerry’s life reminded me of just how intricately woven into the fabric of our local communities the sugarcane industry is.
For over 100 years, sugarcane has been the lifeblood of regional towns and cities right along the Queensland coast, from Rocky Point in the south to Mossman in the north.
At this time of the year, with the crush in full swing, it becomes evident just how important the industry is to regional Queensland.
With harvesters and haulouts rolling through paddocks, trucks and locos transporting cane to be crushed, and mills belching steam as they turn Queensland’s thirty million tonnes of cane into raw sugar - the industry is positively humming.
But all this activity, while being the most obvious and important operations in our industry, are just the tip of the iceberg.
People might be surprised to learn that in addition to the 4500 farmers who grow Queensland’s sugarcane crop, there are about 4500 mill workers who turn that cane into raw sugar.
Just as growers are the backbone of the industry, these mill workers are vitally important our continued success.
But there are also many people, from all areas of expertise and aspects of life, that indirectly contribute to making our industry successful and who, in turn, rely on the success of our industry for their financial wellbeing.
From agronomist to accountants, boiler makers to baristas, car dealers to the crane operators at our ports – I could go right through the alphabet, listing jobs within our local communities that both help support and rely on the sugarcane industry for success.
In fact, independent research has found that in the 2020-21 year alone, Queensland’s sugarcane industry contributed $3.8 billion to the state’s economy and supported almost 23,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Like Kerry, many of these people go quietly about their everyday lives, servicing the industry, both directly and indirectly, without accolades or acknowledgement.
I’d like to take a minute to acknowledge and thank them for their contribution to our success. As an industry, we don’t just want our growers and millers to prosper, we want our friends, families, neighbours, and the wider communities in which we live and operate to thrive.
Right now, the sugar industry is enjoying a bit of a purple patch. Sugar prices are high, some input prices are dropping, and so far we’re enjoying ideal harvesting conditions. We’re also moving towards a more diverse and dynamic future.
I’m confident there’s a bright future ahead for our industry and that, in turn, means a bright future for our cane-growing communities too.