Bloomsbury cane grower Albert Gauci.
Bloomsbury cane grower Albert Gauci. Peter Carruthers

Prossie growers looking at another 'break-even year'

WELL below average rainfall in December and January and the Proserpine region having a 45-55 per cent chance of receiving above median rainfall from February to April has many Proserpine cane growers speculating its going to be another tough season in 2018.

Nearing the end of January and only 87.8mm has collected in the gauge at the Proserpine Airport.

Well down on the January average of 297.1mm.

It was a similar story in December when only 78.4mm was recorded compared to a monthly average of 155.8.

Traditionally February is the wettest month in the Whitsundays but farmers are not getting any positive forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology.

The Eastern Seaboard from Ingham to Maryborough is a 50/50 chance of getting the median average rainfall between February and April according to the BoM's long-range precipitation forecast.

The dry for Bloomsbury farmer Albert Gauci -who was faced with crop losses worth up to $40,000 when Cyclone Debbie hit - the outlook is not good.

"We haven't been getting the rain early in the year, and that is when the cane grows. It struggles," he said.

"It's not easy, I tell ya.

About a month ago he got about 50mms and yesterday (Friday) he got another 50mms.

"So we have been lucky," he said.

Mr Gauci farm lies at the southern reach of the cane line to the Proserpine mill, he said 20 years ago when he started working the land he was surrounded by cane farms, now he is one of the few left on the western side of the Bruce Hwy.

He said farmers are turning to cattle in a region which typically has lower rainfall than Proserpine and Mackay.

"The situation I am in at the moment, I am over the overdraft. If you have to water you think twice before you even start, the power is so costly.

"And irrigation, if you don't do it properly is nowhere as good as rain. It makes a big difference, rainwater, especially storms which put nitrogen in the ground."

Mr Gauci said the recent cyclone forming in the Coral Sea mid-way through the month and again this week has sucked all the rain out to sea, he said he had heard farmers were predicting a dry year.

The second generation cane farmer irrigates his 5,000-hectare farm from the O'Connell River, a bore and an on-farm dam and uses a combination of diesel and electricity-driven pumps.


Strathdickie farmer Gary Simpson says no good rain and low sugar prices could mean another tough year for growers.
Strathdickie farmer Gary Simpson says no good rain and low sugar prices could mean another tough year for growers.

Strathdickie grower, Gary Simpson fears the combination of a low sugar price and big irrigation costs will mean another year of local growers just breaking even.

"It's very dry," he said.

"We need some good soaking rain, probably a 100mm across the whole district to really saturate the ground.

The last good soaking the Proserpine region received was early in December when 47mm fell at the Proserpine Airport.

Mr Simpson said the though there had been light falls, an evaporation rate of about 7mm per day meant the soil moisture - especially in clay soiled fields - was not there.

"The grass rain, it keeps things looking green but to get good growth in the crop the ground needs a good drenching," he said.

Though official crop estimates have not been released by Wilmar Sugar, Mr Simpson estimates a good crop of about 1.8 million tonnes is on the cards.

He said growers will need a good crop to offset the plummeting price of sugar which is at a three year low of about AU$420 per tonne.

The price will not have a bearing on sugar produced in the 2018 crush, Mr Simpson hoped the price will bounce back before harvest time but with an international sugar surplus considered it unlikely.

"For 2018 its looking pretty sad, no one will be locking in prices at the current level," he said.

"Costs are up. Let hope we get something good soon. (rain) because definitely with the low sugar price it's going to be another break-even year.

"Coming off the cyclone last year a lot of us are still fixing up sheds and pumps.

"(And) there is no sign of rain for the foreseeable future," he said.

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