Thursday, September 14, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Irate On Rates

By Kevin Borg, Chairman, CANEGROWERS Mackay

This week, most of us will have forked out on a hefty rates bill, an ever-increasing challenge for property owners in an environment of low wages growth, high cost-of-living, and rising property values and interest rates.

For most cane farmers, the story is not different. Our homes and our businesses are wrapped up in the farm.

Under the Mackay Regional Council rating system, cane farming is its own category, charged at 0.22586 cents in the dollar with a minimum annual general rate of $2,110. By comparison, the “Other Rural'' category is 0.11211 with a minimum of $1386. Why the difference? If we are looking to build a modern regional economy based on renewable biocommodities derived from cane, why create a municipal disincentive to keep rural land under cane. There is a clear message being sent from growers that they have had enough.

We call upon Council to support the cane industry with measures that help us boost our productivity and keep land under production, rather than create more hurdles. We ask that our rating category be brought more into line with “Other Rural” and “Other Commercial/Industrial-Regional” categories.

CANEGROWERS Mackay has had reports from members of 90% increases in the amount they pay in rates. Two examples of growers not far from the city who have sought CANEGROWERS Mackay’s voice on this subject and are paying in excess of $8000 for the half year amount. We know for a fact that there are farmers that are paying even more.

In this day and age of higher costs of production, growers are attempting to keep ahead of cost of production by taking on new farms, either by lease or purchase, in order to generate a viable business income to stay afloat while working in an industry and lifestyle for which they have a passion.

Yes, growers are businesspeople, but unlike most businesses, growers operate on the margins of taking a world price for their product and therefore are not able to pass on their increasing cost to maintain a profit margin like other businesses can. Yes, sugar prices are strong at present: but costs of production remain high and rising. Likewise, growers cop it from both directions when we grow the best crop we are able and then have that potential dwindle away as a result of poor milling performance. This is especially disheartening and unrewarding in a high price environment.

Rates are straight off our bottom line. We do not derive income through the more lucrative mining and resources sector, we are a vibrant and growing economic sector, but we should not be milked as a cash cow. Many growers live in areas well away from council facilities. Why are we one of the middle-to-higher general rates categories?

With the exception of shopping centres and major ports, mills etc and Commercial/Industrial properties based in Paget, Commercial/Industrial properties across the region are paying a lower general rate.

In May, elected and management representatives met with council’s leadership to ask these questions, responding to increases to land valuations which were likely going to cascade into higher rates for our members. Council did assure us that decisions at that point had not been made, and that they would meet with us before rates were issued. We still look forward to that meeting and continuing this discussion.

In an environment of high costs of production, growers are after a fair go on rates to help keep land under cane, a renewable product which will support a transitioning local economy. Photo credit: Kirili Lamb

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