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Disasters claim sugar jobs

HARVEST WOES: The sugar industry is expecting a reduced harvest this year.
HARVEST WOES: The sugar industry is expecting a reduced harvest this year. Mike Knott

A COMBINATION of the floods of last year and the subsequent drought has led to job losses at Bundaberg Sugar's operation.

General manager of operations David Pickering said the extreme weather had forced a review of the company's structure and, as a result, there were eight redundancies.

"We had floods last year, which led to a small crop," he said.

"We've had to spend a lot of money on repairing our cane railway lines."

This year's dry spell also looks as though it will result in a smaller cane crop and resulting crush.

Mr Pickering said the company had to look at maintaining efficiencies and production so it could remain competitive.

The job losses were at both the Millaquin mill and on the cane railway network.

Mr Pickering said half the jobs lost were seasonal and half were full time.

"This puts us in the position where we know we have got a sustainable company and workforce into the future," he said.

Mr Pickering said the company was aiming towards an annual harvest of two million tonnes of cane.

"That's probably where we need to be," he said.

In 2012 the harvest was 1.8 million tonnes, which was close to what Bundaberg Sugar wanted.

Mr Pickering said the company had a five-year plan to get to the two million tonnes.

This involved Bundaberg Sugar planting more land to sugar cane, and encouraging growers in the district to plant more.

Mr Pickering said even with the recent rain, and if growers irrigated now, it was going to be a very small crop this year

. Isis Canegrowers chairman Joe Russo said the recent rain would help lift the crop.

"Up until four to five weeks ago it was looking disastrous," he said.

"The rain has been a great benefit."

Mr Russo said estimates of the harvest in the Isis district was about the 850,000 tonne mark.

But 50mm of rain in the next few weeks could push that up.

Last year the district harvested 1.175 million tonnes of cane.

"The cane that has been irrigated has really grown," he said.

"But it's hard to put a number on the smaller and unirrigated cane."

Mr Russo said no start date for the harvest had been set yet, but based on the estimated crop it would be mid to late July.

Bundaberg Canegrowers chairman Allan Dingle said the estimate for the region's crop was 1.45 million tonnes this year.



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