Mackay region growers weather a tough season

CHANGES: Cane farmer Serg Berardi is feeling the effects of wet weather and proposed changes to the Sugar Industry Act.
CHANGES: Cane farmer Serg Berardi is feeling the effects of wet weather and proposed changes to the Sugar Industry Act.

CANE FARMERS in the region are not only having their season slowed down by wet weather but are also dealing with proposed changes currently before the Productivity Commission in Brisbane, that could see growers stuck in a marketing monopoly.

Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri appeared before the Productivity Commission on Wednesday to express the organisation's serious concerns.

"The Commission has obviously not fully understood the effects and likely impacts of the amendments to the Sugar Industry Act passed... in December 2015," Mr Schembri said. "We reject it and its implications and it should be removed from the final report."

Koumala cane farmer Serg Berardi said the amendments were concerning for growers who also were facing crushing delays due to wet weather.

"The Commission obviously doesn't understand the sugar industry. It's not like other commodities. We have to send our crop to a miller. Most farmers don't have an option to change, due to distance, etc.

"The Commission wants that miller to be our marketer, as well. A monopoly miller becomes a monopoly marketer. I don't think that's a good thing.

"Legislation has really only given us a choice. How they can say that's anti-competitive? I don't understand. Having a choice is not anti-competitive," he said.

With 21mm of rain falling at Koumala on Wednesday night and more yesterday, Mr Berardi is also concerned about the remainder of the crushing season.

"It's been very frustrating. We just get going and all of a sudden it rains. Even though the paddocks were still a bit damp, we were just starting to get trucks in the paddocks, then Wednesday night I received 21mm of rain. So there's no harvesting going... at the moment. It's not what we'd like," he said.

Mr Berardi has so far managed to get about 30% of his crop off, however his harvesting group is sitting at about 27 %.

"We are about 15-20 % behind where we should be. This rain will set us back a few days.

"Planting has been put on hold. It's not ideal," he said.

Mr Berardi said generally harvesting would finish by mid-November, but the second week in December was now more likely if weather and mill efficiencies stayed on track.

" Every mill has a maximum throughput so that any delay extends the season. In wet weather we require more manpower so that also increases costs.

"The high prices are one light at the end of the weather tunnel in this season. Hopefully the weather will give us a chance to get this crop off or we can't take advantage of them," he said.

Canegrowers Mackay CEO Kerry Latter said the unseasonal wet and a larger than estimated crop had affected the crush.

"With world prices at their highest, it's critical for growers and millers to get the crop off," Mr Latter said.

Topics:  canegrowers mackay sugar productivity commission sugar wilmar

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