25 June 2024 Russell Hall AgForce Cane President

I sit here as a Grower/Contractor in the Burdekin and a Representative in the Sugar Cane Industry bewildered, confused, concerned and very frustrated about where our mighty industry is heading and whether there’s even a future for our children to come back to the farm.

Now most mills in my area and my representative areas are either not performing to what they should be, or even more concerning aren’t going at all. With the agreed set down date to start around early June, in most cases this hasn’t happened and the ones that have, only a small percentage are performing to an acceptable standard. That standard has deteriorated over the last five years and has slipped to a point that is not acceptable for any of us. This scenario doesn’t work for growers, contractors, millers or even community.

The dollars that growers and contractors lose every year due to late finishing seasons is in the millions and those millions don’t flow through the towns to small businesses and everyone is suffering. I would hate to think what the milling company is also losing in processing profit as well as the amount of sugar marketing and trading profit that they are missing out on. Just doesn’t make sense.

The real kicker for me looking from the outside is what is going on at present. The start dates have been put back in some cases 2-3 weeks behind the scheduled start and apparently it has to do with industrial action.

I understand from the information I have received, that the industrial activity to date has only consumed around four days plus a small number of one hour stop work meetings and yet we have 50% of the mills not operating some two weeks after the last hint of any industrial activity.

I’m baffled to understand how mills can lose ground under this scenario.

No Good Enough.

These small towns have endured hell in the last four years with rats, disease, out of season floods and unprecedented rain events and then added salt to injury with late starts and late finishes from their milling companies. With good sugar prices, my members in most areas can’t make the most of it because of poor yields associated with all the above. With forecasted wet weather looming towards the end of the season. We are once again on the merry go round of another disastrous year where most of my members have lost the opportunity to send cane to their factory in glorious weather conditions.

Our mill workers and broader communities are feeling the effect of this with shop owners closing doors, harvesting contractors considering their future and our kids moving away to find work elsewhere is disheartening.

These workers are the lifeline of our mills and towns, the experience we have in these towns cannot be lost or taken for granted and must be rewarded for their loyalty over a long period of time. From what I can apprehend, it appeared that the unions compromised on a reduction of around 7 percent with very little movement from the other party. That shocked me a little. These workers aren’t looking for mining rates, they’re just asking for what the average rate that is being paid around their towns so they can be home every night with their families. With the skilled labour shortage at the moment and strong employment opportunities in other sectors it worries me that we will lose good people if something doesn’t change.

I do personally support the workers in this battle. We will have to endure some more pain in the short term, but I hope that the whole community sticks together to get through this. We can’t keep giving because soon enough we will have nothing left to give and this is when we will be at our most vulnerable.

For media comment:

AgForce Cane President, Russell Hall 0427 827 212

AgForce Media Team