Dropping sugar prices add to Debbie's woes

Gregory River cane grower Lindsay Altmann is beginning Spring planting.
Gregory River cane grower Lindsay Altmann is beginning Spring planting. Peter Carruthers

SUGAR has suffered a setback as the price fails to live up to 2016's expectations, but Queensland growers are still busily taking advantage of a dry winter to prepare for August planting.

For Gregory River grower Lindsay Altmann, the falling sugar price, reduced tonnage and commercial sugar content in the wake of Cyclone Debbie means he will struggle to turn a profit this year.

Mr Altmann said he did not forward sell sugar earlier this year when sugar prices hit a two-year high of about AUD $540 per tonne.

"With all the business that was going on, I didn't forward price any. I had the opportunity but I didn't take it,” he said.

"It's just one of those years - you work all year for nothing. We will see what happens next year.”

Mr Altmann said this year he expected to harvest 7000tonnes of cane grown on 110ha.

"I think I will average about 68 tonnes per hectare this year,” he said.

Beginning spring planting this week, Mr Altmann said Cyclone Debbie had knocked 3000 tonnes off his crop this year, which equated to a loss of $100,000.

"What people don't realise is you have already spent the money to grow it. What we lost is the ability to have money to spend to go again next year,” he said.

"A lot of blokes are borrowing money to go again next year. That's just how it is.”

Last year, two million tonnes was crushed in a record-breaking harvest since Wilmar took over the Proserpine mill in 2010.

But Mr Altmann was not one of the growers who had a good year in 2016.

Queensland Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said the sugar price, which was comfortably above US20 cents, had wound back in recent months, hovering between 13 and 14 cents after traders realised there would be a global surplus this year rather than the expected deficit.

"But the sugar price has always been volatile,'' Mr Schembri said.

"The good news is that we have had a pretty good winter and there are really two windows for planting in sugar - earlier in the year around May/June and the other in the spring.”

Topics:  gregory river proserpine sugar cane tc debbie

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