12 June 2017
WEATHER IMPACTS ON CROP BUT POSITIVE OUTCOMES STILL EXPECTED
Australia’s largest sugarcane farmer, second largest raw sugar exporter and third largest miller, MSF Sugar, expects its four mills to crush around 4.4 million tonnes of sugarcane during the 2017 crushing season.
The crush estimates are lower than the previous season’s record throughput of 4.85 million tonnes, largely due to the impact of inconsistent weather conditions on crop growth.
Absence of a wet season on the Atherton Tableland and continual drought conditions in the Maryborough region, where there was no significant rainfall from July 2016 to March 2017, affected the crop.
MSF Sugar CEO Mike Barry said there was no doubt the sugar industry could be unpredictable, influenced as it is by weather, growing conditions and market price. However, with the company investing strongly in infrastructure during the off-season he was confident that 2017 would deliver positive outcomes.
“Our mills, and indeed all our growers, work to achieve the best possible crop whatever the conditions.
“MSF Sugar continues its solid commitment to the sugar industry. During the past season, we outlaid $84 million in growth capital, in addition to full maintenance programs at all four of our mills.
“Construction on our first green energy power plant at the Tableland Mill is now underway, which sees us investing a further $75 million into the Queensland industry, and we have continued to invest in our cane rail network with 5 level crossings upgraded in addition to regular track maintenance” he said.
Across the MSF Sugar group, the largest throughput of the season is expected to be at the company’s South Johnstone Mill which started its crush on Tuesday 13 June. The mill will be supplied by some 1,609,952 tonnes of sugarcane, which will be harvested from about 20,000 hectares by more than 250 growers in the region.
Mr Barry said while the 2017 predicted crush for South Johnstone Mill was lower than last season’s tonnage of 1,721,178, the 2016 crop was an impressive growing season not normally experienced in the region.
“The 2017 crop continues to look promising with the growth rate during April consistent with the favourable weather conditions, and plant health is excellent. The 400 mm rain event experienced in the South Johnstone growing area during January has impacted some cane growth,” he said.
On the Atherton Tableland, where crushing started on Monday 30 May, while beneficial storms late in 2016 and early this year were helpful to the crop, overall weather conditions mean the prediction for the Tableland Mill crush is for around 730,000 tonnes, down on last year’s crush of 819,152 tonnes.
Mr Barry said there was already concern for next year’s crop with the outlook very much dependent on rainfall delivered by the coming wet season.
He said that with the Tinaroo Dam at only 50 per cent capacity, irrigators are expecting a reduced water allocation of between 45 and 55 per cent for the next crop.
“This may mean a reduction in crop size for next year’s harvest with less yield and area under cane,” he said.
The Tableland Mill, the most technologically-advanced sugar mill in Queensland, is supplied by 65 growers. Best modern farming practices, including trash blanketing, wide row spacing, minimum tillage and controlled traffic farming techniques are utilised by around 60 per cent of the cane farms in the region.
At MSF Sugar’s Mulgrave Mill, cane harvested from 14,600 hectares will be supplied by 185 growers during the 2017 season. The crush commenced on Tuesday 13 June, timed to coincide with the start of crush at South Johnstone Mill, and will run for about 23 weeks. Based on an operating rate of 425 tonnes per hour, the Mulgrave Mill season is expected to result in a throughput of around 1,370,000 tonnes of sugarcane.
Mr Barry said while the anticipated tonnage is lower than last season’s record crush of 1,521,612 tonnes, the CCS was expected to increase to about 12.5, 1.5 units higher than for the previous year.
“The weather in the Mulgrave region is back to the usual wet season after two abnormal years and this should mean an overall better result. The crop is standing and presenting well for a good harvest,” he said.
Looking at south-east Queensland, for MSF Sugar’s Maryborough Mill, where crushing will not begin until mid-July, weather conditions were described as ‘disastrous’ for the crop and sugarcane quality is likely to have suffered from the drought conditions.
Mr Barry said that due to the continual drought, a season crush of around 540,000 tonnes was predicted, well down from the previous season’s crush of 791,435 tonnes.
He said growing conditions for the 100 growers supplying the Maryborough Mill had been anything but ideal.
A combination of 26 days with temperatures higher than 35 degrees Celsius and reduced water supply significantly reduced yields.
Water supply constraints resulted from both the Lower Mary Irrigation Scheme and the Fraser Coast Effluent Re-Use Irrigation Scheme being turned off during February due to low water storage levels.
“Despite two record droughts in four years, sugarcane growers supplying the Maryborough Mill remain confident and continue to expand the land area growing cane,” Mr Barry said.
All MSF Sugar mills operate continuous crushing with three shifts, which sees the mills processing cane 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. This makes for efficient harvesting, transport arrangements and milling capital for the industry.
With the season underway, motorists travelling to Far North Queensland are reminded that cane trains are now active throughout the region. The cane rail network operates 24 hours a day 7 days a week until the completion of harvest.
For more information please contact:
MSF Sugar Communications Manager
Mob: 0417 043 954