Marsha Neville

‘A hell of a year’ sees early close to harvest

THIS year’s sugar cane harvest wound up on the weekend, nearly two months earlier than most years.

“I’ve been here for 50 years and this is the earliest I’ve ever seen,” said farmer and chairman of the Tweed Canegrowers’ Association Robert Quirk.

“It’s mainly because of the floods in March-April.

“It’s been a hell of a year.

“Sugar cane needs sunlight to grow. For the first four months of the year it didn’t grow.”

Compounding the shock for growers was that most thought they had a far-heavier crop than was the case.

“It looked like the crop was there,” said Mr Quirk.

“But we estimated 25 per cent more than was, there and there’s some pretty experienced people.

“It had the height but not the stalk.”

However Mr Quirk said sugar content was up so for most farmers; “It’s not a total disaster”.

Tweed growers, he said, would also benefit from higher domestic sugar prices for their crop due to high world prices.

He conceded that delays in some farmers being paid by the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative were “a concern”, but hoped that was being overcome. Some growers have said they are still waiting on delayed cheques and are fearful of not getting their money before Christmas.

“The co-operative is doing as much as it can to get money into the pockets of growers as soon as possible, but they have to get it first,” said Mr Quirk.

He said he would be meeting with co-operative management, including chief executive Chris Connor, next week about the issue and proposals by the Maryborough Sugar Factory to buy into the co-operative.

That injection of cash is expected to help the co-operative improve the efficiency of its co-generation electricity plants at Condong and Broadwater, which are understood to have been struggling to process green cane, burning the residue for power generation.

Mr Connor last week confirmed the co-operative was “looking at restructuring to inject equity into the business”.

Mr Quirk understood talks with the Maryborough Sugar Factory were on-going but, “at the end of the day”, management would have to come back to farmers to “get an okay”.

It could mean the end of the traditional co-operative.

“Some of us older blokes aren’t all that happy about it, but it might be the way forward,” Mr Quirk said.

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