Cane growers’ boost

THE best sugar prices in years and the likely chance that a major industry player will invest in Sunshine Sugar has boosted cane growers’ hopes for a profitable season, despite a huge drop in production.

NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative boss Chris Connor said the fundamentals of the local cane industry, and its new co-generation power plant, were sound and there was light at the end of the tunnel when it came to financial security.

And this despite an uncertain couple of years in which local growers struggled through record frost, then flood and now poor prices paid for power.

In the meantime, the practicality of cutting two-year-old cane and feeding the separated trash into the power plant’s boilers has continued to create problems.

Until these are resolved, and an injection of cash to make it work, the power plant will continue to run far below its intended capacity, Mr Connor said.

But interest has already come from Maryborough Sugar Factory Ltd and other major players to buy into the NSW project, which includes three sugar mills, a refinery and now a co-generation power plant.

“We are looking at restructuring to inject equity into the business,” Mr Connor said. “But there is nothing definitive at the moment.”

He said local cane growers, as members of the NSW co-operative, were effectively bankrolling the co-generation venture to the tune of $10 million.

Of immediate concern was the need to get production back to capacity.

Mr Connor said the district had lost 20 per cent of its cane from bad frost and flood and planting of alternative crops like rice and macadamias.

The forecast for this season at Broadwater mill, for instance, is a 30pc reduction in production to 700,000 tonnes.

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