On The Land

23 March, 2022

North Queensland sugar stays strong

MSF Sugar is quietly optimistic about the 2022 sugar producing season, and while it was still too early to call, the company believes this year is showing signs of out-performing the 2021 results.

By Sally Turley

“As we near the end of the growing period, we are gearing up for the season ahead, with expectations of a good crop and improved harvest across our far northern Tableland, Mulgrave and South Johnstone mills this year,” MSF’s senior cane supply manager Mick Ward said. 

“But with the potential persistence of a La Nina event into late spring and the strong possibility of cyclones hitting the North Queensland coast, we still have 6-7 weeks of risk period to undergo before we can comfortably predict any outcomes. 

“I am very pleased however, to see the significant land conversion from maize to sugar that has been occurring over the last couple of years. A combination of the grower incentives being offered by MSF Sugar and the pain inflicted on maize growers by the invasion of the Fall army worm has begun to have an impact on Tableland land use.” 

MSF has been offering a $1,000 per hectare non-repayable subsidy for new cane land as well as zero interest loans to help growers establish plant crops or maintain ratoon crops. Tableland sugar growers with farms from 20- 300 hectares have been enjoying gross margin returns of around $3,000 per hectare,” Mr Ward said. 

Incentives had helped with cash flow during establishment, but also extended to assistance finding contractors to carry out ground preparation and planting and advice to new sugar growers on selection of cane varieties, fertilising regimes and weed control. 

Owned since 2012 by MitrPhol Group, the world's fifth largest sugar producer, MSF has invested more than $200 million in expanding the sugar industry in Maryborough and the far northern regions over the last decade. 

Across the board, Queensland's far northern sugar industry has managed to defy the impacts of Covid-19 and other challenges such as global market distortions, according to a newly released report commissioned by Australian Sugar Milling Council (ASMC). 

The report shows the north's four sugar mills had a combined, direct spend of $400 million last year. 

That included $64 million in wages and salaries to 763 employees, $73.2 million in purchases from local businesses, $261.8 million in grower payments and $1.8 million in community contributions and government payments. 

After the economic multiplier was applied, ASMC's chief executive officer Rachele Sheard said the industry's total regional contribution for the last financial year was $592 million, while also supporting 3,196 full-time equivalent direct and indirect jobs. 

“Significantly, the total spend across the Douglas, Mareeba, Cassowary Coast, Cook and Cairns local government areas was almost identical to the 2017/18 financial year when, in comparison, the average global sugar price for the preceding three years, was AUD$80 per ton stronger,” she said. 

The industry has come a long way since it was established by the first white squatters who moved into North Queensland in 1861 and began establishing a string of sugar and gold ports along Queensland's northern coast. 

There are now 24 sugar mills across Australia, but 94.2 per cent of the raw sugar exported is produced in Queensland.


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