Millers want more than sugar

FUTURE THINKING: MSF chief executive officer Mike Barry believes mills will be producing much more than just sugar in the near future.
FUTURE THINKING: MSF chief executive officer Mike Barry believes mills will be producing much more than just sugar in the near future. Jodie Nash

IT'S a sugar mill like you have never seen before.

One that can generate power for 28,000 homes, operates during every month of the year and also processes blue agave - the plant used in Mexico to make tequila.

That's just some of the vision MSF Sugar chief executive officer Mike Barry and general manager business development Hywel Cook explained during their presentation at the Rural Press Club.

As part of a $75million upgrade to MSF's Tableland Mill, by July next year green baseload electricity and ethanol will be produced at the factory alongside sugar.

And this December, they will seek board approval for a similar project to be rolled out at another one of the company's four mills.

Mr Cook said the plans were part of a "biofuture roadmap”, which could one day lead them to producing multiple products and services from existing mills.

MSF Sugar CEO Mike Barry.
MSF Sugar CEO Mike Barry. Andrea Davy

"This is about using the assets that we have to the best of our ability,” he said.

"The exciting part is when you look at how can we transform the industry... you look at how you can run your factories 12 months of the year using a variety of different products to go into the front end.

"We can start making higher value products, like bioplastics, higher value fuels, other food products - so much more than just sugar.”

Mr Cook said this could make cane worth more, from about $50 a tonne to $100 a tonne.

So what does all of this mean for the grower?

While Mr Barry didn't give a predicted figure for how much money would be passed onto farmers, he said there was "no doubt about it - they are going to be paid more”.

Mr Barry witnessed the shutdown of the Babinda Mill in far north Queensland in 2011, when other agriculture industries swallowed up much of the region's cane land.

"If (farmers) are not profitable, they will vote with their feet and they will grow other crops,” he said.

"We have seen that... we had tree farms going into that area but more than anything it was bananas.”

Mr Barry said it was up to millers to be "on their toes”.

"We have got to make sure that we have the best and most profitable land use.”

Topics:  cane farmer mill msf sugar sugar industry

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