Mackay Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said the region’s cane farmers had shown resilience after two bad seasons.
Mackay Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said the region’s cane farmers had shown resilience after two bad seasons. Sonia Ball

Cane farmers aim for better season

THE future of the sugar industry is looking sweet with high prices predicted for 2012, but Mackay cane farmers are 'cautiously optimistic' about this year's season.

Canegrowers Australia believes that even after two years of terrible seasons in most areas, this year the industry will once again become a major economic driver of regional Queensland.

Canegrowers Mackay chairman Paul Schembri said growers had shown resilience and were approaching this year cautiously.

"We are looking forward to this year... but we have certainly had it rough the last couple of years," Mr Schembri said.

Last year had resulted in a disappointing crop with Mackay Sugar and Plane Creek Mill crushing only 5.3 million tonnes of cane altogether, he said.

"This is one of the poorest crops we have crushed in this district in the last 15 to 20 years."

The low yield was not surprising considering the large amount of standover cane that was left unharvested due to the prolonged wet season in 2010, Mr Schembri said.

This year farmers are hoping for better weather and for sugar prices to remain consistently high.

"The 2012 crop could be quite promising and has considerable potential... but we have our feet fairly and squarely on the ground, we have not got there yet," Mr Schembri said.

For the last five years the industry has experienced higher sugar prices, with lows of 23 US cents a pound and highs of 33 US cents a pound.

"This year the price has been around 23-24 cents per pound US," he said.

"The high Aussie dollar has taken a lot of the gloss off the high prices... a broad rule of thumb is, for every one cent the dollar goes up we lose $4 a tonne of sugar."

Farming land also holds a high value, with Mackay region's housing crisis putting pressure on some farmers to sell.

"The land near the urban footprint and even outside the city area has a premium value at the moment," Mr Schembri said.

However, as long as there was money to be made in the sugar industry Mr Schembri said he believed farmers would hold onto their properties.

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