Exit leaves a sour taste for cane growers

CANE growers in the Bundaberg region are bracing for the impact of a row between Queensland's main exporting body and agribusiness giant Wilmar.

Wilmar, which operates eight sugar mills, has decided to withdraw its annual two-million tonne output from the central marketing desk of Queensland Sugar Limited.

QSL markets 90% of Australia's 3.2 million tonnes of sugar.

But with Wilmar withdrawing, a large part of the nation's sugar exports will be out of QSL's control.

Bundaberg Canegrowers chairman Allan Dingle said Wilmar's decision would have an impact on the region.

"No one is sure what that impact will be," he said.

"It is more likely to be negative than positive."

Mr Dingle said the Wilmar move would lessen the ability of QSL to obtain optimum prices for sugar produced in the Bundaberg region.

"We want to have some say in our economic interests," he said.

"The majority of growers want to stay with QSL."

Mr Dingle said the growers wanted to have a say in how their sugar was marketed.

"This would affect every grower in Queensland," he said.

The fight intensified last week when Wilmar served official notice of its exit from the QSL relationship.

QSL is warning Wilmar it will have a fight on its hands.

Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said growers were angry Wilmar said its consultative meetings had been constructive.

"If Wilmar was genuinely listening to grower feedback, they would have changed their proposal by now to allow growers a choice of marketer for their two-thirds share of the sugar - they would have corrected their unpopular plan to strip away the growers' only trusted marketing and pricing body which gives them unrivalled transparency," he said.

"Our growers are rising up to say that they will pursue every avenue and angle. They will not have their rights stripped away - even by a large corporate entity such as Wilmar."

Mr Schembri said if that sounded like an emotional and passionate call to arms, that was because growers were equating this to their future profitability and their ability to continue to stay on the land.

"Margins are tough enough on the land, without allowing a system under which they couldn't be sure whether they were getting their fair share of the return," he said.

"The implications for competition identified by industry have further steeled our growers' resolve to line up to the fight.

"While the notice by Wilmar is for three years hence, growers are not wasting any time in making what they need clear to Wilmar now. 2016 isn't that far away in the life of a farm."

Topics:  farming sugar cane

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