How coronavirus is impacting Qld's sugar industry

DESPITE coronavirus impacting businesses across Australia there's positivity in the Proserpine sugar cane industry, which is currently taking strong strides towards crush season.

Proserpine Canegrowers manager Michael Porter said the impact of COVID-19 on growers had been minimal so far, with volatile sugarcane prices largely evened out by a drop in the Australian dollar.

He said recent conditions had been favourable for growth, with good rainfall leading growers to expect a more productive year than last.

"From our point of view, there's no need for distress or alarm in the sugarcane industry at the moment," Mr Porter said.

"Growers have seen adversity before in Proserpine, Cyclone Debbie took its toll, but they hunkered down and got on with what they had to do.

"Growers are obviously worried about the self-isolation aspect, but it's not likely to impact them too much as isolation is often part of their life anyway. A day on the tractor or in the field by yourself is quite normal."

Mr Porter said growers had been given "every indication" that crushing would go ahead as planned, with assurances given by the Proserpine Sugar Mill that they would be ready for the start of the season in June.

Proserpine Sugar Mill (1) Jan 2020
Proserpine Sugar Mill (1) Jan 2020

He said he viewed agriculture as an "essential service" and didn't expect the industry to be impacted by any widespread lockdowns.

"Sugar cane is so connected to the economy of not only Proserpine, but the whole east coast, so we would expect it to continue," he said.

"We're an export commodity and we're confidently hearing that all the ships are still scheduled and other countries still want our sugar.

"We can't guarantee anything given everything is changing so quickly, but every indication so far shows it will be crushing as normal."

Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL) chief executive officer and managing director Greg Beashel said QSL had experienced no substantial impacts on raw sugar sales or export shipments to date as a result of COVID-19, but was continuing to monitor the situation closely.

He said while QSL had not seen a significant decline in demand and their shipments were continuing through Queensland ports, it was too early to assess the full impact of the current pandemic on global sugar consumption and the Queensland industry.

Mr Beashel said that while the sugar price had fallen dramatically in recent weeks in line with global events, the weakening Australian dollar had helped to soften the impact of this for local sugar producers.

"Most of the sugar produced in Queensland is exported and priced using the ICE 11 sugar market in the USA, so the low Australian dollar has worked in our favour, helping to keep gross prices above A$400/tonne for the coming season at this stage," he said.

"Thankfully a rally in sugar prices earlier this year also prompted many of QSL's growers to lock in prices higher than current levels for their 2020 crop."

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