Mt Ossa grower Wayne Thompson at the Mackay Sugar Nordzucker meet and greet at the Mackay Turf Club.
Mt Ossa grower Wayne Thompson at the Mackay Sugar Nordzucker meet and greet at the Mackay Turf Club. Zizi Averill

Growers recognise changing of the guard at sugar meeting

FOR CANE grower Wayne Thompson, the gathering of 400 growers and Nordzucker representatives was a "last huzzah".

"Not for the industry - it's a new start for the industry," Mr Thompson said.

The grower from south of Mt Ossa said after a lifetime of hard work on the farm he was retiring from cane growing.

"Tonight is my last dealing with them," he said.

Mr Thompson is confident the industry he's leaving behind is in solid hands.

He believes the new international majority shareholders will do a good job and improve the mills.

But he's quick to add, "We didn't really have another choice".

"It's sad that things have changed - but that's just life."

This was a refrain common among many of the 400 growers and grower shareholders who arrived for the meeting with Nordzucker executives at the Mackay Turf Club Thursday night.

While they welcomed the new German investors, many were sad to see the decline of the once prosperous locally owned mills.

Mirani grower Jeffrey Bradshaw, 73, said he hoped the Nordzucker deal would provide a future to the troubled industry.

 

Mirani growers Jeffrey Bradshaw and Alana Bovey at the Mackay Sugar Nordzucker meet and greet at the Mackay Turf Club.
Mirani growers Jeffrey Bradshaw and Alana Bovey at the Mackay Sugar Nordzucker meet and greet at the Mackay Turf Club. Zizi Averill

"I just hope it all works out for us. It's a sad day really," he said.

After five decades in the industry, Mr Bradshaw said the change was not about the older growers but the future generations of cane farmers.

"It's a shame to see Mackay Sugar go," he said. " (But) I hope they can make a go of it for the younger generation - my time is gone now."

Mr Bradshaw said Nordzucker was taking over Mackay Sugar as the region struggled with numerous threats, including the globally low sugar price, high production costs and the shrinking farmland in the region.

He said housing, cattle and small cropping farmers had cut into the once immense fields of cane in the region.

Speaking at the Mackay Turf Club meeting, Nordzucker CEO Lars Gorissen acknowledged that the decision was a difficult, emotional step for the growers, many of whom had generations of involvement in the mills.

 

Nordzucker CEO Lars Gorissen touring Farleigh Mill after the company's deal was finalised with Mackay Sugar.
Nordzucker CEO Lars Gorissen touring Farleigh Mill after the company's deal was finalised with Mackay Sugar. Zizi Averill

By the growers, Mackay Sugar and Nordzucker working together, Dr Gorissen said, the region had a good future.

"All I ask of you is to grow as much cane as possible," he said.

The call for increased production would have interested Homebush grower Renato Germanotta who earlier said he had been forced to leave cane unharvested on his property in the past two crushing seasons.

Mr Germanotta said the unreliability and slow crush rate of the mills meant that one year as much as 10 per cent of his crop had been left standing.

"You don't grow it all just to leave it in the paddock," he said.

 

Homebush growers Dario Germanotta and Renato Germanotta at the Mackay Sugar Nordzucker meet and greet at the Mackay Turf Club.
Homebush growers Dario Germanotta and Renato Germanotta at the Mackay Sugar Nordzucker meet and greet at the Mackay Turf Club. Zizi Averill

Watching the farm's profits go unharvested was a frustrating and disappointing experience, and Pleystowe grower Kevin Zarb said Mr Germanotta was not alone.

"Just about everyone had cane standing over the last three years," Mr Zarb said.

"We need every stalk taken to the mill and crushed."

"No one wants to work for nothing".

With the Nordzucker investment - and ideally an increase in the sugar price - Mr Zarb said, both the mill and the growers would prosper.

For Dawlish grower Barry Pace, the arrival of the Nordzucker representatives was an opportunity to hear "what our destiny is".

Mr Pace said growers in the region had been hit with a "vicious circle" of losses.

He said increasing on-farm production costs combined with decreased sugar prices had resulted in growers and the mills spending less on maintenance - resulting in the equipment and machinery becoming run down and inefficient.

"If you can't pay your bills the whole town is going to suffer," he said.

Mr Pace said he was interested in the new mill investor's plans to increase the industry's profitability.