Farmers fight for survival
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.
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.
MYSTERY AILMENT: Fred Gangemi’s crop is being hit.