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Farmers & Graziers

10 July, 2021

Sugar Mackays economic backbone

by Kevin Borg MANY people who live and work in the Mackay Isaac Whitsunday region may have no direct links with the sugarcane growing industry or indeed with any kind of agriculture. The sugar industry is just the neat green paddocks of wavy cane or a mill belching steam as you busily drive past on the way to somewhere else.


by Kevin Borg 

MANY people who live and work in the Mackay Isaac Whitsunday region may have no direct links with the sugarcane growing industry or indeed with any kind of agriculture. The sugar industry is just the neat green paddocks of wavy cane or a mill belching steam as you busily drive past on the way to somewhere else.

Now that the harvest is on, you may even be annoyed by waiting for locomotives loaded with cane or by large farm machinery sharing the road with you as it is moved from farm to farm. However, please be patient as safety is our first priority! Whether you have contact with the industry or not it is worth remembering its importance to the economic health of the Mackay Isaac Whitsunday region and indeed to Queensland’s economy. 

CANEGROWERS is currently promoting a message on social media urging care during the harvest season which reads: Please be patient in sugarcane areas. We’re harvesting export income for Queensland. And it’s true. 

Australia exported $1.7 billion worth of sugar in 2019/20, with Queensland contributing the overwhelming share (95 percent). That’s 3.8 million tonnes of sugar in 2019/20 from 30.04 million tonnes of sugarcane. People who have nothing to do with the industry nevertheless benefit from the $1.1 billion paid in taxation by the industry to the government which in turn pays for better roads, health and education for all Australians. 

In our region the Mackay/Plane Creek/Proserpine sugar industry produces 26.3 percent of Queensland’s total sugarcane crop. Mackay Sugar estimates about 5.3 million tonnes of cane will be crushed this year at its three mills. Wilmar estimates 1.3 million tonnes of cane will be crushed at Plane Creek Mill.

 Together, the two regions are expected to produce about 1 million tonnes of raw sugar this season. Sugarcane farming has a value chain which includes sugar mills, transport operators; ports; shipping companies, planting and harvesting contractors; fuel distributors; fertiliser and chemical retailers; farm machinery retailers; irrigation equipment suppliers; and accountants and insurance brokers. For every one dollar contributed  in economic activity in cane growing, an additional $6.40 is contributed elsewhere in the economy.

In Mackay the contribution works out at about 7 per cent of the total Gross Regional Product (GRP) worth about $1.5 billion annually. That includes supporting 8,000 full-time jobs or 8.4 per cent of the workforce. The good news is that despite the pandemic, economists remain optimist about Australian agriculture’s future. 

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) in February identified the megatrends which are shaping Australian agriculture. ABARES lists as the No. 1 megatrend, the growth juggernaut of three billion empowered global consumers.

 To quote from the report, “Rapid growth in emerging economies, particularly in Asia, will lift incomes, expectations and economic capacity. An expanded and empowered middle class in countries such as China, Indonesia and India will demand higher volumes and quality of food and fibre, including more diverse diets and more protein – with rising expectations for health, provenance, sustainability and ethics.” Australia is well placed to meet these demands with Australians reaping the benefits


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