Last of 2019 sugarcane hauled to Isis Central Mill

Isis Central Sugar Mill cane train
The cane trains have stopped rolling for the 2019 season as the last bins were hauled to the Isis Central Sugar Mill today.

The harvesters and the haulout tractors fell silent today as the last of the 2019 cane-crushing season crop was hauled from the fields around Childers to the Isis Central Sugar Mill.

The Mill’s chief field officer Paul Nicol said the final 470 bins were transported to the Mill with crushing scheduled to be finalised by 7pm this evening.

In a disappointing season, the mill will crush just over 970,000 tonnes of cane, short of the one million tonnes it now anticipates as a benchmark and well short of the 1.2 million throughput of last season.

“We have arguably had the worst drought in our history, and we are fortunate that farmers were able to irrigate their crops otherwise the season would have verged on a disaster,” Mr Nicol said.

“I don’t think a lot of people appreciate just how bad this drought has been. Coupled with lower sugar prices, all the elements were present for a tough season.

“However, farmers realise this industry is cyclical and just as you have years with a downward trend you rebound with better years.”

Isis Central Sugar Mill field officer Paul Nicol
Isis Central Sugar Mill chief field officer Paul Nicol.

Mr Nicol said the current release of water from Paradise Dam as Sunwater seeks to lower the dam level has been an unexpected bonus for farmers.

“The free water coupled with the region’s drought declaration — which grants farmers electricity tariff relief — is enabling the ratoon crop, next year’s harvest, to get away to the best possible start.”

Childers farmer Joe Russo had one of the last cane crops to “cut out” today and was generally pleased with the result of his season.

“We put in place good farming practices, good use of fertiliser and water and we got a result,” he said.

“Modern farming means you really do have to stay ahead of the game and invest in the latest technology.”

Diversification is part and parcel of the Russo farming plan.

“We grew rotational crops of sorghum and barley this season and with the shortage of fodder crops we were able to achieve unexpected cash flow with the sale of those crops and also the sale of our trash blanket as a fodder supplement,” he said.

Throw in peanuts and now the 30,000 macadamia trees the Russo family has planted and the ability of the farming enterprise to hit a financially attractive crop are significantly enhanced.

“We used to only grow cane simply because it was all we knew. We now have experience in other crops, and you have a far better opportunity of having at least one of those crops produce a good financial return,” he said.

With the crushing wrapping up in just 14 weeks the Mill workforce of around 150 is in for an extended slack season.

Isis Central Sugar Mill chief executive John Gorringe said the start of a $17 million extension of the tramline to Wallaville would ensure a lot of the employees remain employed through to the beginning of the 2020 crushing season.

“The tramline project certainly came along at the right time,” Mr Gorringe said.

“Employees from all areas of the mill – electricians, carpenters, etc – will all play a part in the construction of this infrastructure as well as undertake the usual mill maintenance work.

“We anticipate the project will take around 26 weeks to complete. The extension will run from Cordalba to Wallaville.

“The extension is an exciting project and the first section substantially follows the old Queensland Rail corridor from Cordalba to Marule.

“Using that existing route simplified the approval process to get the go-ahead for this project.

“The second section from Booyal to Wallaville has been more of a challenge, running along Marule and Loeskows Roads through to Drinan Road.”

Isis Central Sugar Mill cane harvester
A cane harvester cutting the final few rows for 2019 on Russo Farms.