Farmers urged to plant sugarcane to cash in on demand

Sugarcane harvesting.
Sugarcane harvesting. Mike Knott

GYMPIE'S burgeoning sugar industry could be on the brink of a multi-million-dollar expansion, with the Maryborough Sugar Factory casting its eyes south and waving the cheque book to lure embattled dairy farmers and graziers into sugarcane.

MSF cane supply officer Chris Coutts-Smith said yesterday about 800ha of land at Goomboorian and Scotchy Pocket was under sugarcane cultivation, producing about 5% of the factory's supply.

MSF hopes to grow Gympie's contribution by 50% by expanding production in those areas, and starting it in the Mary Valley.

"Our business owners are keen to see the factory run at full capacity, meaning we plan to grow by another 25%," Mr Coutts-Smith said.

"As land around Maryborough becomes scarce, we expect that the area south to Gympie will benefit from much of this expansion.

"My own role with the company is to help foster expansion and encourage new growers into the industry.

"Many of our existing growers are expanding as a result of an improved price outlook and a better system of risk management through forward pricing.

"However we have a short age of available land close to Maryborough, so we are keen to talk with landowners further afield."

While sugarcane cannot be grown on steep slopes or on land subject to heavy frosts, Goomboorian's reliable rainfall provides the Maryborough factory with some of its lowest cost production.

"Sugarcane will grow in a variety of soil types," Mr Coutts-Smith said.

"The fertile flats of the Mary River produce some of our highest yields.

"While it's unlikely sugarcane will ever be the major crop in Gympie, we believe many properties currently used for grazing or dairies would be suitable.

"Our efficient transport system allows us to source cane from as far away as 100km without any extra freight cost to the grower.

"Of course, we can also negotiate freight rates from further afield."

Mr Coutts-Smith said the factory had received numerous inquiries from Gympie region dairy farmers hit hard by the milk price war.

"Many of these already grow fodder crops, so they have the skills, land and equipment to easily make the change to sugarcane," he said.

Sugar is a major player in the Queensland economy, accounting for about $1.8 billion or 12.5% of the state's primary industry gross value of production.

"We are now considered to be amongst the most competitive producers in the world, and are ideally placed to supply the growing demand for sugar in Asia," Mr Coutts-Smith said.

MSF owns four sugar mills in Queensland, making it Australia's third largest producer and second largest exporter.

Each year, the Maryborough factory crushes about 700,000 tonnes of sugarcane supplied from more than 100 growers. About 100,000 tonnes of raw sugar is produced for export out of Bundaberg port.

Sugar has been grown in the Fraser Coast region since the 1860s and the Maryborough factory has been in operation since 1895.

"Our local industry turns over $53 million with $32 million paid directly to growers, and we estimate it supports 500 families on the Fraser Coast."

Gympie Times

Topics:  maryborough sugar factory sugarcane sugar industry

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