ALL PHOTOS: Megs Burgess/Megashots Photography
PETER Rose has witnessed hundreds of cane fires in his 20 years on the farm, but that wasn't always the case.
"I used to work in Sydney," he said. "But I got sick of corporate life, came up here and bought a cane farm."
Mr Rose said for the first few years he was an active helper of the fires while learning the ropes.
"You're always working with your neighbours, a minimum of four on each burn, but the more the better," he said.
"The first year or so I just observed, and then because I was the young one I took over the flame gun doing the walking.
"I just operated under instruction, now I'm one of the experienced ones and part of the decision-making that goes into working out the strategy on burning each block of cane. They're all a bit different and you've got to assess each one."
Mr Rose said the wind strength and direction were critical into how they burned the field.
"Essentially, you start in the down wind corner and you go along and try and let it backburn," he said.
"The wind will blow the embers and 'flyers' - bits of burning cane trash - across the track where you're working, so if you've got a crop next door you've got to go slow or try another method.
"Once the back burning sides are finished you go round the corner - here the wind will fan the flames and the fire will take off. This rush of fire will create its own wind and draw in the fire from the back burnt sides. You end up with a chimney effect with the fire drawing into the middle of the block from all sides."
Mr Rose said there was another method to control the embers and flyers from going into the adjacent field.
"This method uses the drawing effect of the fire to make the back burning easier. Both burners move down opposite sides of the block with the person on the down wind side waiting until the flames from the other side are strong enough to create enough wind to suck his flames into the block and away from the adjacent block. This concept needs good co-ordination and understanding by the two on the flame guns," he said.
"Considering the number of fires that we light each year right next to very flammable crops we have very few problems - I've only seen two instances in 20 years where a non target cane crop was unintentionally burnt."
While the familiar falling of black ash during the cane season was a yearly ritual in the area, Mr Rose said burning wasn't something the farmers enjoyed.
"For starters, we have a narrow window in which to burn a block and if the conditions are not right, we may have to wait around a couple of hours waiting for the wind to drop and then decide that it's not going to and then agree to turn up at another time," he said.
"At the moment, we're doing early morning fires, as the adjacent crops are so dry. However, it's not fun driving to the fire site in an open tractor at 5am with the frost about to settle.
"Even the other night (when the photos were taken) it didn't draw properly and we had to just ease it along slowly."
Mr Rose said a lot of money had been spent to try to develop a method to avoid burning and use the trash, including the Broadwater and Condong co-generation plants to produce energy from the trash - however, "this didn't work as we couldn't get the cane and trash to the mill in a cost effective manner".
Despite that, Mr Rose acknowledged the fires were spectacular, and could see the attraction for the public.
Region's sugar mills enjoying a bumper run: CHRIS CONNORS/Sunshine Sugar
THE NSW sugar industry is faring well during this extended dry period across the state.
According to Sunshine Sugar chief executive Chris Connors, the cane crops have continued to grow through a relatively mild winter.
"As a result we are seeing yields in terms of both tonnage and sugar content tracking above forecast," he said.
"These two factors are good for grower returns and good for sugar mill productivity."
Approaching the halfway point in the season, growers are now preparing their fallow ground for ready to commence planting operations.
Ahead of this year's planting process, many growers are making arrangements to have their residual cane tops baled as livestock feed to be sent out to inland graziers.
"The three sugar mills across the Northern Rivers region are enjoying a bumper production run," Mr Connors said.
"Consistent cane supply, above average sugar content and low fibre are combining to drive efficiencies across the production process.
"The quality of sugar and syrups being produced by Sunshine Sugar can only be described as being of exceptional standard."
In addition to a positive growing and production season, Sunshine Sugar was recognised for excellence in workplace health and safety, having taken out top honours at the annual Clarence Valley Business Excellence Awards.
"As a major regional employer with significant manufacturing infrastructure, Sunshine Sugar has developed a number of programs specifically targeted at improving the health and wellbeing of employees," Mr Connors said.
Chasing fire produces sweet result: PHOTOGRAPHER MEGS BURGESS/Megashots Photography
IT is cane fire burning season, and being a little impatient at times I was tired of running out the door just to look for the smoke above and getting there too late.
I got in contact with the Canegrowers Association in Maclean who were ever so helpful.
Later that afternoon I was put in touch with Peter Rose who was most welcoming for me to come out and grab some pics of his cane fire.
As the first one was lit, the crackling began and the thrill of watching and capturing it was just amazing. Pete saw my happy face and said: "Oh this is nothing, wait 'til we get down the back near the creek bed."
I was thinking "ok this could be interesting", but as we got to the end near the creek bed and waited for the flames, I could see why it was going to be even better.
The reflection was something I never thought was going to happen. I thought it was a dream. he photo says it all, and that's why I'm calling the pic Flame Trees.