Whole-crop harvesting burnt
SUGAR cane burning is expected to kick off across the region next week after a processing method which would have allowed whole-crop harvesting failed to deliver.
Sugar cane trash burning takes place before harvesting to remove dead leaves. The NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative had been working on a process which would mean burning in the field would no longer be necessary. However, the process has not worked as well as trials had indicated.
“Growers don’t like burning,” Richmond Rivers Cane Growers Association chairman Wayne Rodgers said.
“We want to move to whole-crop harvesting but it depends on the success of research and development being conducted by the mill.”
Mr Rodgers said when the technology, which would allow the whole plant to be harvested, was perfected it would be a world first.
Meanwhile, sugar mill chief executive Chris Connors said there had been a good level of interest from several companies for a possible purchase of its two cogeneration plants.
The plants, owned by the co-operative’s subsidiary company, Sunshine Electricity, with the government owned Delta Electricity, fell into financial trouble after Renewable Energy Certificates prices tumbled last year.
The sale is needed to repay loans used to pay for the construction of the plants, which have proved to be a financial failure. It was hoped that the plants, which began operating in 2008 and are fuelled by sugar cane waste, would become a profitable arm of the co-operative.
However, the plants were hit by cost overruns and fuel shortages after it was discovered the cost of building a facility to process sugar cane trash before it could be used in the plant was more than four times what had been budgeted for.
Without the processing facility the plants struggled to find suitable sources of fuel.
After Renewable Energy Certificate prices crashed to $24 at the beginning of this year, the co-operative began talks with its financers in the hope it could restructure its debts.
Sunshine Electricity had received 26 expressions of interest from Australian and overseas companies about taking over the operation of the plants.
Mr Connors said the mill was now working with a ‘selected group’ of companies who were interested in purchasing the cogeneration plants and some of these companies had already inspected the facility.
He said the negotiations were complicated but could result in a part-sale of the plants, among other possibilities.