Herbert River cane grower Chris Bosworth
Herbert River cane grower Chris Bosworth

Tough times now just fact of life for canegrowers

CHRIS Bosworth knows how tough it is making a decent living from sugarcane.

The family of the vice-chairman of the Herbert River District Canegrowers started farming in the Ingham district 100 years ago.

It's a case of "been there, done that" when it comes to the highs and lows of sugarcane farming for the family.

Mr Bosworth says farmers' moods reflect the state of the industry. Right now with prices at $400 tonne for sugar the mood is low.

If it was in the $500s, it would be a different story.

On top of India's anti-social dumping activity and rising costs here at home, Ingham growers this year are looking at a 10 per cent shortfall due to flooding in December.

"We got 700mm of rain overnight when the cane was only small. It is a loss, but that's life," he said.

There is a view that the Indian Government is supporting the dumping of its country's surplus sugar on the world market because it knows its growers will reward it at the ballot box at this year's election.

In effect, it is a pork barrelling exercise designed to win votes from an estimated 50 million people tied in some way to that country's sugar industry.


Ingham farmer Chris Bosworth. PIC: Morganne Kopittke
Ingham farmer Chris Bosworth. PIC: Morganne Kopittke


Mr Bosworth said he would rather see the Indian Government subsidising its farmers in a way that made them more efficient and that helped them rise from poverty instead of it 'buying' votes through the dumping of sugar.

Back here at home there are problems inside the industry Mr Bosworth would like to see addressed such as more young farmers.

"We used to have 100 harvesting contractors here in the Herbert 10 years ago. Now we have 53. We have to address this or we will have problems cutting our cane. It's not just Ingham. Every district has the same problem. Farmers are in their 60, 70s, even 90s," he said.

"A harvester costs $870,000. Our capital costs are out of control."

Mr Bosworth says there is a long-term future for cane, but seeing the industry flourish requires changes to farming methodology. He sees machinery sharing as something that will become more common.

"People, neighbours have to get together and share equipment. The way forward is to get together and share gear. This is what I do," he said.

Mr Bosworth said it made no sense having a machine that cost $100,000 sitting in the shed when it only gets used for three weeks of the year.

"Sharing is a way to bring costs down," he said.

He said more growers had to become BMP (Best Management Practices) accredited. He said Coca-Cola was now recognising BMP accreditation and wanted to buy sugar produced under this certification.


Queensland Cane Growers chairman Paul Schembri. Pic Peter Wallis
Queensland Cane Growers chairman Paul Schembri. Pic Peter Wallis


'India has to play by rules'

Chairman of peak industry body Canegrowers, Paul Schembri says India has to be made accountable to the World Trade Organisation for disrupting world sugar markets.

By dumping big chunks of its mountain of surplus sugar, India has driven down the price globally. Doubling down on this as far as growers are concerned are the ever-increasing and rapidly rising costs of basics such as fuel, fertilizer, insurance and power.

Growers are looking for a glimmer of light at the end of a black-as-night-tunnel.

Mr Schembri says there are signs of a turn-around, but it won't happen overnight.

The Indian problem is a process that will take time, but Mr Schembri is confident that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will play its part and bring the sub-continent to heel. It is not just Australia that is complaining about the dumping.

Brazil has also joined Australia in denouncing India's action and is calling on the WTO to use its power to restore equilibrium.

There has been speculation inside the industry that any protest by Australia will receive only a token response from the WTO. Mr Schembri disagrees.

He says that with both Brazil and Australia - two of the world's top three sugar producers - behind the protest, the WTO will listen. And to back this up he says the WTO acted in 2004 when the European Union dumped six million tonnes of sugar onto the world market.

"We have to make India accountable and ensure it plays by WTO regulations," Mr Schembri said.

He said it could take 12 to 18 months before a resolution is reached.

"There are legal, economic and diplomatic negotiations that have to take place," he said.