AGRICULTURE : by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Farmers call for action on sugar crisis
, November 15, 2003
As a sign of the serious crisis in the sugar industry, soon locally manufactured cane harvesters and components may no longer exist in Australia.
In the 1980s, the sugar cane industry used to buy about 300 new harvesters annually. In the 1990s, that dropped to about 160 sales per annum. Over the past six years, sales averaged 25 annually. In 2003, only 17 new harvesters were sold.
Austoft has been the only domestic manufacturer of harvesters. It used to employ around 1,100 people on three shifts a day. Now it employs only 220 on a limited number of working days.
Austoft soon expects to move production to Brazil, and will be exporting machines to Australia.
Meanwhile, a public meeting called by the Sugar Reform Committee in Ingham, north Queensland, attracted around 350 farmers on October 30. The meeting unanimously backed a call to especially target Government sugar seats in the State and Federal elections.
It called for the removal of a State Ministerial Directive that forces farmers to sell into the domestic market at the corrupt export parity price and does not even account for wharf and handling charges, transport or storage costs.
No other country sells at this price on their domestic market, not even third world sugar producers. All are heavily subsidised either through their domestic sugar sales or value-added products like ethanol and such other contributing factors as currency devaluations.
The meeting called on the Federal Government to ensure that removing the Ministerial Directive would not see the Queensland Government penalised under National Competition Policy.
The motion called for a realistic price for domestic sugar in the form of a government guaranteed loan to supplement the price pool, with interest paid by Government, and the mandating of a 10% ethanol blend in fuel.
Under the plan, each sugar producing district would be allocated a quota of loan monies to be paid back through Queensland Sugar Ltd when the world price increases above $300/tonne for raw sugar.
Should the price not rise above $300/tonne of sugar within the next five years, the loan would be re-allocated as a grant to allow a recovery period for the industry.
Cane farmers also demanded action on security of their cane payments to prevent grower's funds being withheld in the event of a mill closure, an issue that has caused serious problems in sectors of the industry in the past.
Incentives for investment were raised, such as introduction of a 20% investment allowance on new machinery for agriculture.