Frost canes sugar growers
By HELEN JACK
STANDING amid the frost-withered sugarcane on his farm at Woodburn, Tom Walsh is calculating the cost of recent freezing temperatures, not just on his own farm but on the Northern Rivers sugarcane industry as a whole.
Harvesting before the damaged cane deteriorates further is crucial.
But this, coupled with slower-than-expected processing during Broadwater Sugar Mill's inaugural green cane harvest, has created a processing backlog that has most growers worried.
The mill is now working overtime to get through the backlog, with some harvested cane from the Northern Rivers being sent south to the Harwood Mill to try to ease the pressure.
Normally harvesting an average of 26,000 tonnes of sugar cane from his farm at Woodburn, Mr Walsh said he would be lucky this year to end up with two thirds of that.
"Next year will be hard because the frost has affected first-year plantings, meaning that next year there may be no two-year-old cane available for harvest south of Broadwater Mill," he said.
"I have been farming here for 10 years and I have never seen it like this before. Many older farmers, who have been here for 60 or 70 years, have said the same."
To supplement lost income from the damaged cane Mr Walsh said he would be forced to plant soybeans to get some quick cash to help him through.
"It will take quite a few years for the industry to get back into its proper cycle," he said.
"One farmer I know said 'thank God for global warming or we would have been in real trouble'."
NSW Sugar Milling Co-op corporate relations manager Greg Sweetnam said NSW Sugar was racing to harvest 85,000 tonnes of frost-affected cane along the Richmond River.
"Farmers, harvesting crews and NSW Sugar staff met this week to devise the best way to harvest the worst-hit areas as quickly and efficiently as possible," he said.
"Badly affected cane will be cleared within the next four weeks. Recent frosts are believed to be the harshest the industry has experienced since 1964."