Cane growers question the future of their farms as relations with miller Mackay Sugar sour - ABC Rural
Queensland cane grower Faron Bowman is a sixth generation farmer who says he would walk off his land tomorrow if it was not for his kids.
He said he was fed up with his miller Mackay Sugar, Australia's second largest sugar miller, and one which has substantial debt to pay down.
The debt, at its peak, was more than $200 million.
Mackay Sugar has also been criticised for running unreliable, underperforming mills in need of a major overhaul.
In a statement, the miller said it sympathised with the issues facing everyone in the industry.
"We know the $2/t levy is hard for everyone but without it, we could not have completed our maintenance program and the 2018 season would have been much worse than previous seasons," the statement read.
The company is currently working on a majority sale of the business which 75 per cent of the growers need to support.
In a recent circular sent to growers, Mackay Sugar chairman Mark Day said the recapitalisation plan was slightly behind its initial timetable.
However, Mr Day remained optimistic the process could be completed by December "subject to an acceptable bid".
Next generation growers in doubt
For some growers though, the process has taken too long and waiting has taken a toll.
Some say they ready to leave their farms while others consider turning to cattle production.
Mr Bowman has spent money expanding his farm for his children, but lately he questioned whether it was even worth it.
"We are all getting older, we are all getting sick of it and we are not making much money … there is only so much we can take."
He said he was disgusted with Mackay Sugar and the fact its situation had deteriorated so much.
"We have been telling them for six or seven years that they have been doing the wrong thing," he said.
Mr Bowman's wife, Andrea, said she worried about the next generation of cane farmers, especially her own children.
"If we do not keep it together, there will be no next generation … with the industry the way it is, I just do not know what is going to happen," she said.
The Bowman kids
Nine-year-old Clea and 11-year-old Calan Bowman both want to follow in their father's footsteps and take over the cane farm near Mackay.
When the ABC visited the family property, Calan said he loved the life and wanted to stay.
Siblings Clea (front), Calan and Mikayla Bowman want to see the farm stay in the family.
Nineteen-year-old sister Mikayla has graduated from school and works for Sugar Research Australia.
She too wanted to see the farm stay in the family and passed on to her brothers.
"I know how passionate they are about taking over the farm and I will help out if they ever need me," Mikayla said.
"I think it is very important that we keep this going … we want to keep this going."
Cane or Cattle
Phillip Head is another Mackay Sugar grower who openly admitted the situation with his miller had taken its toll.
"It is heartbreaking really, especially when I have been involved with farming all my life and taken over a family farm that has been in the family for over 100 years," he said.
Phillip and Helen Head with sons Mitchell and Matthew are considering turning their cane farm over to cattle production.
He told Mackay Sugar he would be increasing his cattle herd from 300 to 600 head, and more, if the current situation did not improve.
"If the industry does not turn around our plans are to take the whole lot [of cane] out and we are going to run 1,000 head," he said.
Mr Head has two adult sons, Mitchell and Matthew.
Both sons help their father run the family property, but for Matthew Head the prospect of farming is not as exciting as it once was.
"It is disappointing hearing all of the stories of what it was to what it is now," he said.
"The way it is going you lose interest. You go for smoko and instead of going for one hour you are having two."
Joint venture hope
Phillip Head and Faron Bowman agree that a joint venture could turn things around, but want it to happen sooner rather than later.
Mr Head said he believed the situation would improve if investors came on board.
"If they turn the mills around, farmers probably will turn around and come on board with them.
"If they could turn it around to 90 per cent of what the industry used to be, it would be a good industry to be back in."
In its statement to the ABC, Mackay Sugar said "past decisions of MSL some time ago have not provided the profits forecast at the time and the mills have suffered in performance from underinvestment for some time".
Mackay Sugar is currently working on a majority sale of the business to ensure the future of the company.
The industry has been here over 100 years and has weathered this in the past.
"We know that with a bit of time the prices will rise again and we want to be in a position so that the growers benefit from this."
via ABC Rural http://www.abc.net.au
May 3, 2018 at 03:25PM
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