On The Land

30 April, 2023

Super sweet crush for growers

QUEENSLAND’S 2023 sugarcane crush is just weeks away and local growers are gearing up for a record breaking seasons as prices soar to heights not seen in over four decades.

By Rhys Thomas

Tableland Canegrowers president Claude Santucci
Tableland Canegrowers president Claude Santucci

While canegrowers have seen good prices over the past few years the rising costs of fertiliser and other essential parts of the growing process shrunk their margin and provided little to no reprieve.

Now the price of fertiliser has shrunk by 30 per cent while the price of sugar cane has doubled compared to the prices two years ago.

Tablelands Canegrowers chairman Claude Santucci said many local growers are capital-ising on the current boom and forward pricing while the prices are high.

Mr Santucci said the current price for sugar cane is roughly at an average of $753 per tonne.

“That is a record-breaking price, we have not seen that sort of value in potentially 30-40 years, so that is very exciting,” he said.

“Growers are able to lock in that price even though we haven’t even harvested that crop yet, in the cane industry we can forward price our crop so grow-

ers are actively out there and taking advantage of this price and selling their season’s production.”

Local growers are just a few months away from sending their cane to either the Tableland Sugar Mill or the Mossman Sugar Mill as the season is set to begin.

Canegrowers chairman Owen Menkens says the recent spike in the world sugar price, coupled with the drop in fertiliser prices, is setting up 2023 as a bumper year for Queensland’s sugarcane industry.

“Just two years ago the sugar price languished below $400 per tonne, not even covering the cost of production for many grow-ers. It was a pretty grim time,” he said.

“Fast-forward to today and that figure has doubled, with the prompt price hitting highs of $804 per tonne in mid-April.

“The last time we saw the prompt price at $800 was in 1980, more than 40 years ago, so growers are understandably excited.”

While most growers have already priced their sugar from the 2022 season, and therefore won’t be able to take advantage of the latest high, prices for the coming seasons are equally impressive and continue to rise.

Queensland's cane growers are unique amongst their international peers as the only sugar-cane growers in the world who can forward price for seasons to come.

As of mid-April, growers could forward price their 2023 sugar at $756 per tonne and their 2024 sugar at $651 per tonne.

Adding to growers’ excite-ment is a fall in fertiliser prices, which had skyrocketed in re-cently due to the war in Ukraine, all but negating any positive im-pacts of the surging sugar price.

However, thanks to a recent decline in demand and a drop in natural gas prices, fertiliser prices are falling on the global market.

“These falls haven’t filtered through to the local market yet, as resellers offtake old, highly priced stocks. But if fertiliser prices continue to drop, sugar-cane growers should find their input costs significantly reduced when it comes time to fertilise ratoons around August/September,” Mr Menkens said.

With rising sugar prices and falling input costs, just two more pieces of the puzzle need to fall into place to make 2023 a bump-er year for Queensland’s sugarcane industry – weather and mill performance.

“Of course, we can’t control the weather, but so far Mother Nature hasn’t been too harsh, with plenty of rain during the growing season and no cyclones.”

Mill performance is a thornier issue, however, and is particularly worrisome for growers, Mr Menken said.

“A combination of wet weather and poor mill performance in 2022 saw the crushing season blow out by four to six weeks in some districts, with harvesters cutting right through Christmas and well into January.

“An extended season isn’t good for anyone. Growers lose out as the sugar content of their cane declines, making harvesting uneconomical. Unharvested cane also has a negative knock-on effect on future seasons.

“Mills also lose out, as they produce less sugar but must keep up staffing and maintenance levels. They also have a shorter off-season to carry out vital maintenance and capital works.

“Growers have put in the time, effort, and money over recent months to ensure a good crop is ready for harvest. And we know that mill staff across our districts are working feverishly with local contractors and suppliers to try to meet their maintenance schedules.

“It is in everybody’s interest to pull together and work towards getting this next crop off in a timely and efficient manner.

“This industry sees our greatest prosperity when we pull together and, from what I’ve seen from our growers, harvesting crews, and mill staff, I know that is what everyone is striving towards.

“The success of the coming season hinges on the efforts we put in now. If we can all rise to meet this challenge, and Mother Nature is kind, 2023 can be a fantastic year for Queensland’s sugarcane industry.”


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