Michael interviews Mr Don Murday, Chairman of the Australian Cane Farmers Association.
While tourism and hospitality in the Douglas Shire are reeling from the impacts of COVID-19, the effects on cane industry operations are only minor.
Don Murday, Chairman of the Australian Cane Farmers Association, reports that a potential loss of cane land is far more worrying. An announced intention to change the current Town Planning Scheme to allow residential sub-division on previously protected cane growing areas is at the heart of this concern.
Restrictions on travel and social distancing are not having any real impact on the industry to date.
There may be issues during harvest, as the 24-hour operation requires harvesting contractor crew changes. Later in the season there may be supply issues, with Chinese-sourced chemicals needed for the post-harvesting process.
Mr Murday has expressed cautious optimism about this year’s crop. Very dry conditions in December and January resulted in marginally less volume than last year’s crop. Cane is standing well for this time of the season. If conditions continue, he expects a good cc level and a successful year.
It is heartening to note that Mr Murday is confident for the long term prospects for the local industry. One of his main reasons is the successful conclusion of a long battle to permit farmers a marketing choice. Local farmers work with QSL, an industry-owned not-for-profit marketing organisation. They can negotiate future contracts on their crop with individual buyers.
Most local farmers have locked in a price for between 50 – 60% of their harvest that is well above the current spot price. The current spot price reflects concerns due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, and the petroleum price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Mr Murday also expressed confidence in the future of the Mossman Mill. Unlike most other mills, Mossman will be owned by local farmers. Funding contributed by farmers for the due diligence is to be converted to equity in the Mill.
Mill management is determined to diversify into the creation of value-added products and other opportunities in bioscience.
Mr Murday said the biggest concern for the viability of the Mill is maintaining a critical mass of cane production. Douglas Shire farmers produce between 500,000 – 600,000 tonnes of cane. Another 300,000 – 400,000 tonnes is contributed by arrangements with Tableland growers. However, a total supply of much less than one million tonnes is problematic for the survival of the Mill.
When asked whether the new Mayor’s announcement that he intends to change the Town Planning scheme to allow subdivisions in previously prohibited areas was a concern to the cane industry, Mr Murday replied,
“Any land we lose to development is a major concern.”
Mr Murday indicates that the Cane Farmers Association will address the new Council about its concerns.