Wa­ter se­cu­rity nec­es­sary

MSF Su­gar calls for ac­tion on wa­ter needs

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News -

MARY­BOR­OUGH’S 150 year-old cane in­dus­try is un­der threat un­less new wa­ter stor­age is built to save grow­ers crip­pled by some of the worst drought con­di­tions in 100 years.

MSF Su­gar, which owns and op­er­ates Mary­bor­ough Mill, and the Fraser Coast’s 100 sug­ar­cane grow­ers, joined forces to lobby the State and Fed­eral Gov­ern­ments to fund a new off-stream wa­ter stor­age fa­cil­ity.

The Fraser Coast sug­ar­cane in­dus­try will use next week’s Queens­land Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nity Cab­i­net visit to Wide Bay to press for ac­tion.

MSF Su­gar’s Gen­eral Man­ager Mary­bor­ough Ste­wart Nor­ton said wa­ter was the back­bone of agriculture in the re­gion.

“Wa­ter is crit­i­cal to a se­cure, sus­tain­able sug­ar­cane in­dus­try, but at the mo­ment our in­dus­try is un­der real threat,” Mr Nor­ton said.

“Our par­ent company, Mitr Phol, has ma­jor ex­pan­sion plans ear­marked for Mary­bor­ough Mill, the cor­ner­stone of which is a co-gen­er­a­tion plant.

“But the sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment of around $100 mil­lion is highly de­pen­dent on an in­crease in cane pro­duc­tion, which means wa­ter se­cu­rity through ad­di­tional stor­age ca­pac­ity is a pri­or­ity.”

The in­dus­try sup­ported SunWater’s pro­posed Glen­dorf Off-Stream Stor­age (OSS), a 6000ML ca­pac­ity stor­age lo­cated ad­ja­cent to the Mary River along the ponded area of Mary River Bar­rage.

Mr Nor­ton said the stor­age would pro­vide enough wa­ter se­cu­rity to pro­duce an ad­di­tional 60,000 to 100,000 tonnes of cane per year, mean­ing more cer­tainty, more jobs and more eco­nomic ben­e­fits for the re­gion.

Jeff Atkin­son, who grows 220 hectares of cane at St He­len’s, north­east of Mary­bor­ough, and is chair­man of Canegrowers Mary­bor­ough, said the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion was dire.

“We have a stor­age sys­tem that was built many years ago but as the in­dus­try has grown, ir­ri­ga­tion meth­ods have im­proved and more peo­ple are want­ing to ir­ri­gate, the stor­age ca­pac­ity is not there,” Mr Atkin­son said.

“Grow­ers are not go­ing to keep bat­tling against drought and the crip­pling ef­fects of dry con­di­tions un­less we find a so­lu­tion.”

Mr Atkin­son said con­sec­u­tive dry years had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on the re­gion’s cane, with this year’s crop badly bat­tered dur­ing some of the worst grow­ing con­di­tions seen in 100 years.

“Cane is our re­gion’s big­gest com­mod­ity, so any neg­a­tive im­pact on it would have far-reach­ing im­pacts on our town and the hun­dreds of jobs the in­dus­try sup­ports,” Mr Atkin­son said.

“For ex­am­ple, grow­ers were un­able to for­ward price their cane last year, as they could not com­mit to de­liver the crop with­out a se­cure and sus­tain­able wa­ter supply.

“I worry any planned ex­pan­sion plans by MSF Su­gar will not go ahead un­less there is in­vest­ment in crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture like wa­ter stor­age. ”

Mr Atkin­son said while the pro­posed Glen­dorf stor­age fa­cil­ity would se­cure the long-term fu­ture of the cane in­dus­try, it would also ben­e­fit other in­dus­tries in­clud­ing macadamias, pineap­ples and gin­ger. He said a se­cure wa­ter supply would give grow­ers the con­fi­dence to ex­pand cane plant­ings.

Mr Nor­ton said while it was en­cour­ag­ing to see the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment list wa­ter stor­age for Mary­bor­ough on its 2017 Bud­get Wish­list, ac­tion was needed now.

MSF Su­gar rep­re­sen­ta­tives will meet with gov­ern­ment min­is­ters on Mon­day.

PHOTO: CARMEN HUNN

WA­TER CRI­SIS: MSF Su­gar gen­eral man­ager Mary­bor­ough Ste­wart Nor­ton and Mary­bor­ough cane­grower Jeff Atkin­son be­lieve the re­gion’s cane in­dus­try faces a grim fu­ture un­less new wa­ter stor­age is built.

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