Farm­ers fight for sur­vival

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - JOHN AN­DER­SEN

MYS­TERY su­gar­cane ail­ment yel­low canopy syn­drome is caus­ing large- scale pro­duc­tiv­ity losses in the Ing­ham grow­ing area.

So lit­tle is known about YCS it can­not be called a dis­ease or a virus for the sim­ple fact the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity does not know if it is a con­di­tion that ap­plies to ei­ther of these def­i­ni­tions. That’s why it is re­ferred to as a “syn­drome”.

Ever since it sur­faced in 2013, YCS has slashed pro­duc­tiv­ity in the Herbert grow­ing area, as well as the Mackay and Proser­pine dis­tricts.

Around Ing­ham, grow­ers like Fred Gangemi are los­ing money hand over fist. He used to cut 7000 tonnes of cane at his home block just out­side Ing­ham. This year he will cut about 5000 tonnes. It is a big hit to the hip pocket, es­pe­cially when global prices are down.

Hand- in- hand with the stunt­ing of the cane is a low sugar count, de­scribed in the in­dus­try as CCS ( com­mer­cial cane sugar).

“The CCS is ter­ri­ble. The last cane I cut was down to 10.4CCS,” Mr Gangemi said.

In con­trast, Bur­dekin cane is fa­mous for its high sugar con­tent that of­ten ex­ceeds 14CCS.

Mr Gangemi wor­ries where it will all end. He is 74 and would like to re­tire, but the mar­gins have him con­cerned for the fu­ture.

“At my age now my fa­ther had been re­tired for 14 years. We are not pro­gress­ing in the in­dus­try. Who­ever you talk to says the same thing.”

Some of his cane has died from YCS. He says sci­en­tific bod­ies such as Sugar Re­search Aus­tralia are do­ing what they can, but find­ing a cause and a cure is prov­ing dif­fi­cult.

A spokes­woman from Sugar Re­search Aus­tralia said the or­ga­nis- ation was shift­ing to a new phase where it would be look­ing at man­age­ment prac­tices that may limit and con­tain YCS.

She said sci­en­tists had ruled out a num­ber of pos­si­ble causes, in­clud­ing her­bi­cide ap­pli­ca­tion and nu­tri­ent de­fi­cien­cies. “There un­der­stand about it.

‘‘ We have a good idea about what goes on in­side the plant when it is af­fected and what it looks like on the out­side.

‘‘ We

are

will con­tinue

things we

field

tri­als as part of our ef­fort to un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing to the plant,” she said.

Herbert River Cane­grow­ers man­ager Peter Sheedy said 3000 tonnes of Ing­ham cane had recorded sugar lev­els be­low 7CCS. Cane that mea­sures be­tween 5 and 7CCS does not par­tic­i­pate in the pric­ing process, and farm­ers only re­ceive nom­i­nal har­vest­ing costs.

Cane that falls be­low 5CCS ceives zero pay­ment.

Mr Gangemi said the Ing­ham dis­trict had lost a lot of its old, pro­duc­tive cane va­ri­eties. He said new va­ri­eties were re­sis­tant to rust and smut, but did not have the sort of weight that trans­lates into dol­lars. In any case they were not re­sis­tant to YCS.

“My own cane hasn’t even flow­ered. It hasn’t got any growth. It hasn’t ma­tured. It is af­fect­ing our vi­a­bil­ity here. I’ve got no debt, but if I did I’d be strug­gling,” he said.

re-

Pic­ture: JOHN AN­DER­SEN

MYS­TERY AIL­MENT: Fred Gangemi’s crop is be­ing hit.

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