Bitter-sweet cane crush as growers brace for short season
CANEGROWERS could go a year without income as dry weather takes its toll on crops.
But Jeff Atkinson, Maryborough and District Canegrowers chairman, says it might be the best option as growers make the call to leave cane in the ground.
Coming off the back of the best season in years in 2018, growers can expect six weeks to be shaved off the crush season, as well as an almost 200,000-tonne shortfall, Mr Atkinson said.
That means lost revenue for sugar cane contractors and the Maryborough Mill.
"The season has been on the lower side of average, the dry weather in the peak time for growing the crop meant growers were struggling," Mr Atkinson said.
"We had a warm winter which has been a bit of a help so far, the later rain has benefited the crop but it's still not enough."
Mr Atkinson said some growers had already made the decision to stand their cane over until next year, while others would make the call closer to the start of crushing.
"It means another year without income, but if it is not a big enough crop it is still more viable to do it that way than cut cane which is only small," he said.
"Some have diversified into other things like beans and peanuts to add another income stream but most just pull the belt in. It definitely makes it difficult financially."
Maryborough mill manager Stewart Norton said the season was tipped to start on July 8, weather permitting, and the factory would churn through an estimated 625,000 tonnes of cane.
"We looked like we were having a great start in November and October with good rainfall but then it dried up after that," he said.
"Unfortunately, we can't do much if we don't get rain.
"It ultimately means less revenue coming through because there is less sugar to sell."
In more positive news for the industry, Mr Atkinson said the sugar price seemed to have bottomed.
"The long-term outlook is the price is showing signs of improving," he said.
"The world price is sitting at 12.75c a pound and our currency has come back a little which helps with our exports to Asia."