STAYING POSITIVE: Mackay region farmer Alastair Farquhar with his two sons, Brian and Alan.
STAYING POSITIVE: Mackay region farmer Alastair Farquhar with his two sons, Brian and Alan.

Anxious farmers watch the sky

ALASTAIR Farquhar and his two sons, Brian and Alan, reckon this is the best crush they have seen in years - in spite of rainfall figures showing the industry is in the grip of a 1-in-14-year dry spell.

The family - with a home farm on Mackay-Bucasia Road with adjacent leases and a second farm at Belmunda, near Cape Hillsborough - has about 260ha under cane and has been farming in the region for four generations.

"My grandfather bought this farm in 1914, so that's how long it has been in our family," Mr Farquhar Snr said.

"We've been cutting this morning and we have about 58 per cent of our cane off for the season.

"This has been the best season we have had as far as our bin allocations and supply and the most reliable for many years.

"The sugar content is up and we are about a unit above the mill but that could all change if we get too much rain or a couple of big storms all at once."

The Farquhar men all have a laugh at the weather and how they sound like they're never happy.

"All we want is for some steady rain, to fall on our RDOs and at night. It's not asking too much surely!" Brian knows how that sounds, though.

"The thing is this," Mr Farquhar Snr said. "It's like if you have a mess on your kitchen floor, you want to mop it up, don't you? You don't want someone to come in with a big fire hose and flood the place."

In spite of the weather and the poor sugar prices, the family of growers are still pretty happy with where the season is headed.

"The mills are working well, we are consistently at about two to five per cent above our allotment and while the content is abnormally high and, yes, we need rain, it's going okay," Brian said.

"We have seen a vast improvement in the way the mill is operating and we can see they have done the right maintenance in the right areas before this crushing season. That has made a big difference."

Still, there are the realities.

"Look at it this way. Back in 1990 we were getting $40 a tonne for sugar. Now, today, in 2018, we are still getting $40 a tonne," Alan said.

"If you weigh that up against inflation and where we should be - the figure today should be more like $75 a tonne. So that means, in real terms, our income has essentially dropped, yet our costs have continued to rise. It makes it tough."

"That's also what the likes of Mackay Sugar - and anyone in the industry, really, has been up against - and it is hard work for everyone in conditions like this," Mr Farquhar said.

"Still, this has been a good year and our plants are good. We had no standover from last year and we will get all of our cane off this year, too, at this rate."

In an update to growers yesterday, Mackay Sugar CEO Mark Day said the local crushing season would pass the 60 per cent mark later this week.

Mr Day said figures he had studied from the past 58 years in Mackay showed the district had received only about 850mm rain in the 12 months to June this year; an occurrence of only once in every 14 years according to the data.

"The weather continues to be extremely dry and we are all hoping for some rain," Mr Day said.

"But we can only deal with the cards presented to us."

Mr Day said the dry crop meant cane quality had remained "relatively good" with low soil and trash levels.

He said as of last Sunday (September 2), about 2.8Mt of cane had been crushed, which was about 58 per cent of the estimated 4.8Mt to be crushed by Mackay Sugar this season.

"Overall, we have crushed 280,000t more than this time last year," Mr Day said.

"Season to day we are $2.6M better than budget in sugar recovery and $3.5M better than last year."

Mr Day said, at this rate, the crush was expected to finish about November 4-6.

This week, the company reported another consistent week's performance for the Mackay mills with 217,566 tonnes crushed for the week and a slight increase in PRS, a Mackay Sugar spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Farleigh had a short maintenance stop to change shredder tips and the most significant stoppages for the week were problems with high loads on the No 3 mill underfeed roller.

"Marian had a scheduled stop to clean evaporators and undertake maintenance with the major stoppage for that factory was as a result of a damaged plate on 3A mill," the spokesperson said.

"High PRS is putting continual pressure on the process house and maximising of sugar rate is the focus for maintenance activities in this area."

The spokesperson said Racecourse also had a scheduled maintenance stop to carry out an evaporator clean and undertake maintenance work, with the most significant stoppage for the week to repair a broken underfeed roller chain on No 1 mill.

WEEKLY CRUSH FIGURES

MACKAY SUGAR - weekly update

Farleigh - 67,254

Marian - 89,334

Racecourse - 60,978

Total tonnes - 217,566

Total tonnes to date - 2,779,783

PRS week - 15.39

PRS year to date - 13.44