Elements conspire against NSW sugar growers

SUCCESSIVE bad seasons have left the NSW sugar industry reeling, and it's only been clever marketing and forward selling keeping it from sinking further into trouble, according to industry advocate and former MP Ian Causley.

Mr Causley, who chairs the NSW Sugar Milling Cooperative and the Sugar Research and Development Corporation, said production was as bad as it had been in more than 60 years.

"A lot of farmers must be in desperate trouble," the former NSW agriculture minister and Page MP said.

We've got the Bureau of Meteorology telling us we've had the hottest summer on record and I'm thinking we must be in a different country.

"I run a pretty big operation here and I know damn well that I'm battling to pay my bills.

"But I haven't been as badly hit as growers in, say, Shark Creek, Kings Creek, Southgate and parts of Lawrence. Those areas have been hit very hard three years in a row. Some growers have lost acres and acres and acres of cane, and it's tough; very tough.

"It also puts pressure on the mill because our production last year was the worst I can remember since 1950.

"This year will be better, but marginally. We had very good plantings last year and next year we expected to get back to normal, but of course the flood wiped out a fair bit of that - I'd say 40% of the young cane was wiped out."

Mr Causley said the growing conditions still weren't ideal.

"We've got the Bureau of Meteorology telling us we've had the hottest summer on record and I'm thinking we must be in a different country," he said.

He said flood relief would help growers with funds to replant, as would a grower loans scheme operating through the mills. And the co-operative would continue to provide growers with whatever help it could.

"You have to keep the production up or you're not going to get any profit out of the mills which, for the past couple of years, have been making losses," he said.

Mr Causley said some shrewd forward selling and profits from the sugar refinery had helped the industry get through.

"Our sellers have been very good. We've managed to get some very good returns," he said.

"We sell forward, which guarantees the income when we cut it. You can sell up to two years in advance."

He said world prices for sugar had slipped, but appeared to be stabilising at about US18c a pound.

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