It’s become a rare sight in Bundaberg to see a farmer set alight their cane fields and watch it burn.
Those that burn do so out of necessity to reduce the chance of cane rot.
Bundaberg Cane Farmer, Mark Pressler learnt to burn sugar cane when he was 10 years old and he’s aware that it’s become less and less common.
“I’ve been burning since I was about 10,” he said.
“I used to go to cane fires, and you learnt by watching other people; seeing what to do, when to do it, and what not to do.
“It’s amazing what you can do with the fire, but the only thing is we’re losing a lot of those skills, because not too many people burn any more.”
“It’s not just the skill you lose, it’s the nerve as well.”
Crowds congregate to watch
As the art of burning cane becomes an infrequent sight, those fields that are still burnt attract crowds of people, who, stuck by the sight of it stop suddenly along the roadside.
“Because the fires are very uncommon, it’s quite common to get a pretty fair audience,” Mark said.
“The biggest problem we find is people pulling up, not even getting away from the fog line and then they’ll just jump out of the car and because they’re too busy watching the fire, they’re not watching what’s going on around them.”
“On the back roads its not so bad, but on the main roads its quite a hazard.”
“Very rarely do we ever advertise it if on a main road, because we get enough people pulling up where they shouldn’t be.”
Mark had a stern word of warning to those who were stopping to watch.
“If you do see a cane fire, park off the road, and watch out for people.”
“Be aware of your surroundings and if you’re close to the fire don’t get too close, because wind can change and the people who are controlling the fire have enough to deal with let alone having to worry about bystanders.”
Why they burn?
Most farmers burn sugarcane to reduce the amount of leafy material, including stalk tops.
Many of the burns around Bundaberg are undertaken because of the soil type.
As Mark Pressler explained, some of the soil types aren’t suited to green cane and after heavy rain can get a waterlogged, which can cause the cane to rot.
“Predominantly, most farmers are still burning because of the land soil types which don’t allow for leaving their trash behind,” Mark said.
“If there’s heavy clay soil, and then you get a lot of rain it just goes rotten, and the cane will die underneath, so it’s fairly imperative for some of those farmers to burn.”