BUNDY’S BLACK SNOW: Cane fires burning at the Cayley’s property at Alloway over the years.
BUNDY’S BLACK SNOW: Cane fires burning at the Cayley’s property at Alloway over the years. Neville Cayley

Farmers explain why they do and don't burn cane

A LETTER to the NewsMail questioning the need for farmers to burn cane ignited debate among readers and our Facebook followers a few years back.

The NewsMail's story was originally published in 2014, but given it's cane season we're republishing it to help explain why farmers do and don't burn cane.

Asthma and health concerns dominate arguments against the practice, but of the almost 250 people who voted in the NewsMail's online poll at the time, 63% said they still supported burning cane.

According to Bundaberg Canegrowers, since 1985 the percentage of cane burnt across the Bundaberg district had decreased from 100% to just 10% in 2014.

Now widely used, green cane harvesting and associated trash blanketing (spreading leaves and other plant residue in a thick layer of mulch over the ground) cannot be used successfully on every farm.

Alloway canefarmer Neville Cayley said he had largely moved to green but occasionally needed to burn.

"When people criticise cane burning they're criticising our work, our job and our livelihood," Mr Cayley said.

"I've largely moved to green cane cutting but when we rotate to use the block for small crops more, it's cost effective and there's less wear and tear on the machinery to burn instead of ploughing it in," he said.

"And leaving the trash destroys the block for future small crops."

Bundaberg farmer Jack Banks no longer burned cane but said he was in a fortunate position that he could wait for a bailing company to remove the cane trash.

"It takes a while, first they rake it up then another guy comes and bails it up and then a few days later the bails get picked up," Mr Banks said.

"Farmers leasing their land need to have the ground ready to go as quickly as possible and burning is a lot quicker."