Crush hopes hit by lack of rain, electricity hikes

BUNDABERG'S sugar industry is facing the prospect of a lean harvest as cane growers are caught between the lack of rain and high electricity prices.

Last year the industry was estimating the 2014 harvest would be 1.7 million tonnes, but that was later revised down to 1.6 million tonnes.

Now the estimate has been revised down even further to 1.45 million tonnes.

Canegrowers Bundaberg chairman Allan Dingle said the reason for the looming poor harvest was simple - no rain.

Mr Dingle said there were only a couple of occasions in February when rain in the double figures fell, and that had little or no impact on moisture levels.

"That aggravates the problem because energy prices are so high," he said.

He said most of the region was still on a 100% water allocation.

"We're seeing people now trying to step back from irrigating," he said.

"That's not because the crops don't need water; it's because energy prices for irrigators are so high."

Mr Dingle said if the region were really lucky it might get some rain out of a cyclone that may be forming up north.

But he said the key to salvaging the season was good rain soon.

"We could still achieve reasonable growth if we get good rain now," he said.

"But the window is closing."

Mr Dingle said if no good rain fell before the middle of April there was no chance of reasonable growth before this harvest.

He said that despite the devastating floods in January last year the district had still managed to achieve a reasonable crop.

"Usually the rain falls evenly across most of the region," he said.

"When you get a flood like that it's the low-lying cane that gets damaged.

"You get winners and losers from extreme weather - the farmers on The Hummock didn't mind the rain at all."

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