Thursday, July 4, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Not Going Away Quietly

By Kevin Borg, Chairman, CANEGROWERS Mackay

Given the community-wide current cost of living crisis, Mackay Regional Council’s budget announcement last week cannot be seen as anything more than a slap in the face for the people of this region. It’s a disappointing impost on the community in difficult times.
It’s a double hit, too, with the steep 3.6 per cent rise in rates combined with a reduction in the on-time payment discount reduced from 10 per cent to 6 per cent. Obviously, council has costs to cover, but, equally, sometimes expenditure needs to be reined in in difficult times.
Farmers too, will grapple with the increases, and farming isn’t like other small businesses.  

If a shopkeeper faces an increase in their costs, they can absorb that cost into their pricing. There will be muttering from the customers, but the opportunity is there if the market will bear it.
For the majority of farmers, and most certainly for cane farmers, they do not have security of income. The income we derive from our crop is entirely driven by the world sugar price, and the mills’ capacity to process our crop.
As farmers, we can work on our productivity, getting the most tonnes of sugar per hectare that we reasonably can. We can work on choosing our varieties carefully, improving soil health, and making sure our plants are able to efficiently use nutrients and water. That, we can do.
Otherwise, we are at the whims of the market and weather, and the success of the supply chain.
It seems to be a struggle to get some to understand that fact, which is why, over the past year we have kept talking to our regional council about ratings categories and practices.
In 2023, new Land Valuations came into effect across the Mackay Region. Growers, particularly growers close to the urban concentration of Mackay, but also those in areas that are attractive to those looking for a rural residential lifestyle. Some of the valuations, driven by property sales nearby, more than doubled.
We appreciate that council reduced the rate from 2.58 cents in the dollar to 2.25 for the 23-24FY. It is positive for growers that experienced that small reduction. It is positive that some had increases under $100. Our concern is for the outliers.
Imagine your rates bill suddenly having an extra $10,000 on it. How do you meet that cost in a finite budget?
Yes, farmers do have the capacity to earn an income from the land on which their families live. However, the assertion that the region must get that amount from the cane growing sector shows a profound lack of understanding of the ups and downs of the sugar industry, of how it operates.
What happens if there is a drought? What happens if the region is hit by a severe cyclone? What happens if the world sugar price collapses? All have regularly happened over the past 100 years and will happen again. Council is not a feudal master entitled to extract as much as it can from residents, but should work within reasonable means.
To play one sector of the community off against another, to say another rating category would have to meet a shortfall in cane land rates revenue seems divisive. CANEGROWERS Mackay has found the language used by Council, burying a very human plight in a cascade of percentages to be dismissive and lacking any sort of compassion for people hit by steep increases, whether in farming or any other category.
The cane farm rate is 163 per cent over the average residential rate. The cents-in-the-dollar rate for cane farms is double that of other rural landholders. It is a rate comparable to a Paget industrial business, most of which enjoy the benefit of the resource sector economy. And I’ll guarantee none of those business premises are also the owner’s family home.
CANEGROWERS will continue to advocate on this issue on behalf of growers.
Moreover, as we come into a state election, we call upon candidates with an interest in the agricultural sector to find a new structure for assessing and protecting quality agricultural land that is challenged by inflated valuations caused by urban expansion.

Cane farms are homes, as well as businesses.  Picture: Kirili Lamb

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