Proserpine Sugar Mill,
Proserpine Sugar Mill, Courtney Garnham

Crush estimate up on back of wet weather

MORE than eight million tonnes of sugar could be crushed by Mackay Sugar and Wilmar Mackay region mills this year.

This is in comparison to 7.27 million tonnes crushed at the five mills in 2018.

With dry weather from April to November last year and a prolonged wet start to 2019, crush estimations are up on 2018 across the region.

Plane Creek Mill in Sarina.
Plane Creek Mill in Sarina. Jonathan Reichard

Wilmar cane supply and grower relations general manager Paul Giordani said across the board, Wilmar Sugar was expected to process 15.41 million tonnes of sugar cane.

"The crop estimate is down in the Herbert this year due to the big summer rain events causing flooding and crop damage, but we're seeing bigger crops in the Burdekin, Proserpine and Plane Creek regions,” he said.

Proserpine mill crushed 1.56 million tonnes in 2018, and 1.43 million tonnes in 2017 after Cyclone Debbie hit.

According too Mr Giordani, the crops in Proserpine are still recovering from the cyclone, but have responded well to recent wet weather.

The estimated 1.3 million tonnes at Plane Creek is the highest tonnage since 2016, when the mill processed 1.34 million tonnes of cane.

Mr Giordani said the Plane Creek canegrowing region has also benefitted from the recent weather.

Mackay Sugar's Farleigh mill will begin crushing on June 4, Marian mill on Wednesday, June 5 and Racecource mill on Monday, June 10, weather permitting.

Wilmar mills are scheduled to begin later - Plane Creek on June 18 and Proserpine on June 25.

Since the last crushing season, both Wilmar and Mackay Sugar have been working on upgrading the mills.

Last year was the first time in three years Mackay Sugar growers did not have to leave cane unharvested.

Mackay Sugar has invested money across all three mills since the last crush.

Work at Farleigh included replacement of A and B molasses tanks, an upgrade of the evaporator vacuum pump, replacing the high grade fugal switchboard and a bagasse conveyor refurbishment.

Mackay Sugar's Racecourse Mill.
Mackay Sugar's Racecourse Mill. Campbell Gellie

At Racecourse Mill they have installed a new boiler ash clarifier, replaced the boiler economiser, retubed one of the vacuum pans and retubed the boiler air heater.

At Marian they have retubed of crystallising vacuum pan, replaced an evaporator tube, replaced the boiler ash riddling hopper and upgraded the boiler feedwater pump system.

Mackay Sugar has also re-railed The Summit tramline.

Wilmar has also invested significant money in the Proserpine mill, with a $1.4 million revamp that renewed the pan from the top of the calandria up. "It's a major upgrade that will shore up reliability of the pan stage, which is the area of the factory that grows the sugar crystals,” Mackay regional operations manager Craig Muddle said.

"Other major upgrades at Proserpine include a new switchroom for the site's injection water control system, overhauls of mill turbines, new induced draught fan impellors and a new sprinkler system for the bagasse bin.”

Proserpine's rail network has also been upgraded.

Wilmar will spend a total of $14m on Plane Creek Mill this year, investing in safety, performance and reliability.

"We're also doing a major overhaul of the Koumala loco at a total cost of $1.3 million. It'll be back on the rails with a new engine, drive train and cooling system as well as a fresh coat of paint,” a spokesperson said.

Crop Estimates

Proserpine - 1.61 million tonnes, start June 25

Plane Creek - 1.3 million tonnes, start June 18

Mackay Sugar - 5.1 million tonnes, start from June 4

Mt Martin cane grower Ted Bussey.
Mt Martin cane grower Ted Bussey.

Crush outlook more positive for coming year

LAST year wasn't a good year for growers or millers according to Pioneer Valley cane farmer Ted Bussey, but he thinks this year will be better.

The Mt Martin grower said while it "wasn't good to be on either side” in 2018, due in part to the low sugar price, the smaller crop and mill performance, the outlook was now more positive.

While he doesn't expect a huge leap in mill performance this year, he thinks a 25-week crushing season is feasible with good weather.

Mr Bussey said he had been fairly fortunate last season as he'd had a good harvesting season, with not much time lost to wet weather.

"Unfortunately, I was in an area that didn't have any rain from April through to November (last year),” he said.

"That has restricted this year's crop pretty severely.

"We've got a fairly average crop because of the dry season in 2018. But since the start of the new year, it's been good rain and at the right time, and not too much heavy stuff on it.”

Mr Bussey said farmers would be waiting to see whether they were in for a dry or wet winter.

"That was one of the things that hurt us last year,” he said.

"(It was) the severe frosts that hurt us on the lower country.”

Mr Bussey said he was optimistic about the crush estimates for Mackay Sugar.

The miller is predicting a crush of 5.1 million tonnes.

"It's a realistic figure,” Mr Bussey said. "They've got more (cane) than last year ... you've (only) got to drive around the district to see it.

"The majority of the cane is not too bad.”

Residents are being urged to watch for cane trains and slow moving machinery during the crushing season.
Residents are being urged to watch for cane trains and slow moving machinery during the crushing season. Tony Martin

Stay safe ahead of crushing

SAFETY is a major concern as Mackay region farmers prepare for this year's harvest.

Canegrowers Mackay chairman Kevin Borg said the sugar industry used specialised heavy equipment during the crushing season and all residents should be alert to the associated dangers.

"Because it is heavy and slower than normal road transport, this machinery brings added threats and danger to our local road network,” he said.

"During the crush, laden vehicles merge onto and leave the road networks frequently throughout the day and night and extra care must be taken by the public while negotiating with this traffic.

"Level crossings and locomotives are the other hazard to watch out for 24 hours a day when using the roads. Most level crossings on the most popular roads are marked with signage and lights but there are a few in cane growing areas that are not so conspicuous.

"Locomotives do not have the ability to brake fast and may take anything up to and in excess of a kilometre to come to a stop.”

Mr Borg reminded parents that children can be at risk on farms or near rail networks during the season. "Parents must ensure their children are kept out of danger at all times to avoid the potential for a tragedy,” he said. "Motor bikes are another real safety threat and recreational riding on farms should be avoided.”



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