Sugar industry loses sweetness

SUGAR cane crop yields are well down and the local sugar industry is facing a “serious situation” according to the chief executive of the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative which operates the Broadwater sugar mill.

In the co-op's monthly newsletter, Sunshine News, chief executive Chris Connors said: “The sugar industry in New South Wales is again facing a very serious situation with the crops for 2011 and, in particular, 2012 under severe pressure.”

“The crop at Condong this season will only be 350,000 tonnes,” he said. “This will be the lowest in over 40 years.”
According to Mr Connors, crops at Broadwater and Harwood, near Yamba, are projected to be 400,000 and 350,000 tonnes respectively which, again, is the lowest level for many years.

“We simply cannot make profits with throughputs of this kind,” he said.

Sugar cane grower and chairman of the Richmond River Cane Growers' Association, Wayne Rodgers, explained that cane growers operate on a two-year cycle and that crops in the region were severely affected by wet weather in 2010.

“Cane is a tropical grass so we need very hot conditions to get it going,” Mr Rodgers explained.

“The yield for Broadwater is solely linked to the wet season last year - only about 40% of the area is planted.

“We were inundated with rain and the crop just couldn't get going.”

But Mr Rodgers said local growers are working hard to establish a crop which will be harvested at one-year-old, which is not the normal practice, but which will bolster the 2012 yield.

“We have the potential to be able to pick up a fair bit of yield if we can get a good one-year-old crop up,” he said. “But we are still a long way behind what the mill needs.”

According to Mr Connors, the co-op will need to manage its affair very carefully in the next two years but will not take “a siege mentality”.

“Our business strategies are targeting an increase in throughput, maximising sugar prices and changing structures to deliver equity into the business,” Mr Connors said.

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