Chairman of the Clarence River Cane Growers Association, Maclean farmer Ross Farlow.
Chairman of the Clarence River Cane Growers Association, Maclean farmer Ross Farlow.

Cane trade on edge after deluge deals devastating blow

IN THE aftermath of a record-breaking flood in the Clarence Valley, cane growers are bracing for what is likely to be another devastating blow to the industry.

Still recovering from last year's modest harvest, with the lowest yield in 60 years at just 236,000 tonnes of cane crushed compared to a seasonal average of 680,000 tonnes, Clarence River Cane Growers Association president Ross Farlow said it was too early to predict how much of this year's crop had been destroyed.

This week Mr Farlow and CRCA manager Pat Battersby toured the district to see how sugar and soy bean crops had fared. Mr Farlow said there were still low-lying areas under water and it was difficult to assess if the cane would survive until the waters drained, but confirmed this season's soy bean crop had been all but devastated.

"Soy beans have been quite badly affected, with losses in the order of 80 %," he said. "Some have survived, but others have seen a complete 100 % loss."

"That's a real disappointment - they were looking marvellous a few weeks ago and would have been a good cash injection for growers at this time of year."

Mr Farlow, a fourth-generation cane grower from Maclean, said many cane growers remained hopeful the relatively cool conditions would continue and assist in keeping losses to a minimum.

"Cane has a four-day window of total inundation, then the rate of loss increases," he said.

"As water recedes, if we have hot days, the water heats up and stews the cane. This is what does the damage. We really don't know to what extent the losses will be," he said. "Only time will tell, but by all accounts, the weather forecast may hold for the next three to four days, which will hold us in good stead. Hopefully we can get through this."

He said meetings were planned between the cane growers' office, executives and Harwood Mill's superintendent Simon Hollis to work on a strategy of getting more precise information.

"We can have floods come and go - we accept as part of life on a flood plane - it's how it is; but it's very unusual to have floods three years in a row in January. It's quite remarkable."