Earlier this month, a ship loaded with Queensland sugar sailed up the River Thames to the Tate & Lyle Sugars refinery in London.
It was the first tariff-free shipment of Australian sugar exported to the United Kingdom in half a century, making it a pretty big deal.
As a result, plenty of newspaper column inches, radio interviews, and television news segments were dedicated to covering the shipment and hailing the success of the government’s free trade agreement with the UK.
However, what most people might not have realised from perusing these reports is the role a particular group of Queensland sugarcane growers played in making this shipment possible.
While the A-UK FTA opened the door for Australian sugar, Tate & Lyle only wanted that sugar if it was certified as being sustainably grown. They were even willing to pay a premium for sustainable Aussie sugar.
Queensland Sugar Limited, the marketer that organised the shipment, was only able to meet that demand and achieve that premium thanks to the hard work of those cane growers who have voluntarily sought accreditation in the industry’s best management practice program, Smartcane BMP.
This industry-led program, which is supported by funding from the State Government, is now recognised by international sugar sustainability gatekeepers Bonsucro and VIVE as meeting their sustainability criteria, and has therefore become a cornerstone of the industry’s plans for growth and diversification.
Already over 40% of Queensland’s sugarcane producing area is accredited in the program, putting us miles ahead of many other ag sectors that have introduced similar programs.
For several years CANEGROWERS has encouraged growers to become certified, not simply to improve their farming systems and increase the efficiency, productivity, and profitability of their businesses, but also on the promise that the program would one day attract a premium for their sugar.
It has taken a lot of time and effort, but we are finally on the cusp of realising that goal, as this first shipment of sustainably grown sugar to the UK proves.
The government is playing its part, opening new markets for Australian sugar, and the growers are certainly doing their bit, adopting sustainable farming practices, and seeking Smartcane BMP certification.
Now it is time for sugar marketers to come to the table and ensure that producers of certified sustainable sugar receive a premium for those efforts.
As consumers become increasingly conscious of how the products they purchase are made, and actively seek sustainable alternatives, demand for sustainably produced sugar will only grow.
The Australian industry wants to lead the world in this area, and growers are working hard to achieve this.
But if we want to build on the momentum of the Smartcane BMP program and revitalise the industry through diversification, for the benefit of the entire supply chain and the communities in which we operate, then growers must be recognised and rewarded for their efforts.
First and foremost, marketers must pass on premiums. But more than that, they must innovate and create new sustainability marketing pools and products where growers can realise the full value and potential of their sustainably produced sugar.