Thursday, January 18, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Crush Wraps, Season Cycles

By Kevin Borg, Chairman, CANEGROWERS Mackay

We have headed into 2024 seeing many growers from Northern growing districts around Cairns, Innisfail and Mossman hit hard by flooding caused by ex- Tropical Cyclone Jasper. Our thoughts are with those growers who will have suffered significant damage to the 2024 crop.

For the Mackay and Plane Creek Growing districts, the harvest ended within the festive season, with mills in both districts the last to finish in Queensland as a result of challenging mill performances throughout 2023. It’s to be hoped the mills make good use of the remaining time before the next harvest to bring mills up to a standard so that we won’t again suffer long delays due to breakdowns, affording a desirable November cut-out. A reasonable finishing date is important for maximising the next crop as well as the sugar content for the crop being harvested.

It is promising to see Mackay Sugar continuing to work on Marian Mill, taking on a full replacement of the high-grade fugals at the mill. Fugals are the centrifuge that separate liquid (molasses) from the sugar crystal. Molasses is a useful biproduct of sugarcane processing that has applications for stockfeed, ethanol distilling and fertiliser.

Mackay Sugar had a staggered finish, with Racecourse and Farleigh Mills tipping their last bins on the morning of 22 December, and Marian running its last through the rollers early on Christmas morning. 5.15Mt of cane was harvested over the 30-week crush, which the miller estimates to be 99% of the crop. Original season estimate for Mackay’s 2023 crop was 5.34 Mt.

Wilmar Plane Creek processed the last cane in the early hours of 29 December, following a 29-week crush, and with some 1117 ha of crop unharvested. 1.3Mt was harvested across 2023, short of an original estimate of 1.54Mt. A very disappointing outcome.

With such a late end-of-harvest, well beyond the optimal mid-November finish, cane CCS (sugar content) had started to decline, which erodes profits for both growers and millers and challenges industry viability. Harvesting so late, and having standover cane again, will also have its effects on the 2024 crop: once again, it will be a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. Ratoon cane harvested and new cane planted earlier in the season is looking promising with conditions of spells of rain and ample sunshine creating good growing conditions. Late cut cane from 2023 will most likely underperform, with waterlogging challenging ratoon growth, and standover cane is typically below par and hard to harvest and process. Unfortunately, these issues impact the viability of our mills taking away profits from both millers and growers.

Storm weather across the district over Christmas and into January created some quite wet conditions in paddocks, with higher rainfall areas around the district experiencing waterlogging. The wet weather certainly creates some challenges for farm management: like weed control and fertilising emerging crops.

With growers taking a well-earned rest in January, CANEGROWERS Mackay is ramping up its training offerings before the 2024 harvest starts, with courses in Business Essentials, chemical accreditation, haulout and pilot/escort driving all to be available over the coming months. Training for members in skills useful to their farming enterprise, and of workers new to the cane industry remains an important membership benefit and industry service.

With the harvest behind growers, paddocks are now on the grow, and fallow crops (at top) being established as part of farm and soil management.  Picture: Kirili Lamb

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