Find­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of sugar cane grow­ers

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - GEORDI OFFORD Geordi.offord@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

GROW­ING up on the fam­ily cane farm, Kelvin Grif­fin loved the thought of be­ing able to drive the big trac­tors for a living – when he left school he did just that.

The sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Bar­gara grower has seen the highs and lows of the sugar in­dus­try and has taken on a di­rec­tors role at Canegrowers Bund­aberg.

“Grow­ing up I didn’t re­ally know any­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said.

“You would come home from school and work on the farm.”

His farm spans across 80 hectares grow­ing four dif­fer­ent types of sugar cane.

“We’ve got very vol­canic soil which is good for grow­ing,” he said.

“It ranges from red to black stony soil and every­thing in be­tween.

“We mainly grow Q240 closely fol­lowed by Q238 and KQ228.”

Mr Grif­fin said he does ex­per­i­ment by tri­alling other types.

“They’re re­li­able and well per­form­ing types, with good strik­ing abil­ity and re­turn a good ton­nage per hectare,” he said.

“We try oth­ers to see what works and what doesn’t.”

On av­er­age, Mr Grif­fin har­vests be­tween 5500-6000 tonnes a sea­son, how­ever that can vary de­pend­ing on the weather.

“Last year was re­ally wet and this year it’s the ex­act op­po­site – it’s bone dry,” he said.

“Be­cause of how wet it was we had stand over at the end of the sea­son.

“We bogged a lot of our fields out and it was just too wet to har­vest.”

Now like most farmers around the coun­try, Mr Grif­fin and other cane grow­ers are feel­ing the strain from the drought.

“It cer­tainly puts a ques­tion mark over get­ting ready for next sea­son,” he said.

“We’ve got to ir­ri­gate and it’s very hard to grow on just ir­ri­ga­tion alone, we need a help­ing hand from mother na­ture.

“Hope­fully we get some­thing in the next three weeks to get a head start on spring.”

He said the longer it takes to rain, the more it was af­fect the 2019 crush.

“We’ve also got a ques­tion mark over our wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions and stor­age be­cause there has been no rain,” he said.

“We’ve been through droughts be­fore and they af­fect our ton­nage.”

If the drought wasn’t enough – farmers are also bat­tling with the power and low sugar prices.

“It’s not cov­er­ing costs, we’ve had to dig back into the over­draft to fer­tilise and ir­ri­gate,” he said.

“I’ve no­ticed when I drive around peo­ple aren’t ir­ri­gat­ing when they should be and it’s be­cause they can’t af­ford to.

“It has an im­pact on low pro­duc­tion which the rip­ples on to a lower price and in­come – it be­comes a very neg­a­tive cy­cle.”

While the in­dus­try is hav­ing its strug­gles, Mr Grif­fin said it shouldn’t de­ter young peo­ple from get­ting into the cane in­dus­try.

“It is an age­ing sec­tor at the mo­ment,” he said.

“It’s a way of life, you do go through those lower patches but things can come up again when you least ex­pect it.”

Re­cently ap­pli­ca­tions opened for schol­ar­ships of­fered by the Aus­tralian Ru­ral Lead­er­ship Foun­da­tion.

Mr Grif­fin had the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in a pro­gram back in 2000 and 2001.

“It was very ben­e­fi­cial for me,” he said.

“It pro­vided me with on­go­ing net­work­ing with like-minded peo­ple from dif­fer­ent ar­eas in agri­cul­ture such as cane, grain and dairy.

“It gives peo­ple the chance to learn new lead­er­ship skills and trans­fer in­for­ma­tion.”

Be­ing in­volved with the in­dus­try for 40 years, Mr Grif­fin has seen changes over time.

“The big­gest change is all the gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion that’s come in,” he said.

“We’re spend­ing too much time on all of the pa­per work and not enough time in the field ac­tively grow­ing and do­ing things.”

“I’d like to see a lot of the red tape the gov­ern­ment have and wish to in­tro­duce cut out.”

The fu­ture looks bright for Mr Grif­fin’s farm with his son the next in­line to carry on the fam­ily busi­ness.

“It doesn’t come with­out its strug­gles, it can be chal­leng­ing at times like any other busi­ness,” he said.

“You’ve just got to work at it and make things hap­pen.”

Mr Grif­fin said the sugar in­dus­try is some­thing that makes the Bund­aberg re­gion.

“I re­ally want the in­dus­try to stay strong,” he said.

“There is such a big flow on af­fect from the farmer, to the ma­chin­ery con­trac­tors, the peo­ple em­ployed at the mills and the peo­ple who look af­ter our chem­i­cals and fer­tilis­ers.

“A lot of money is gen­er­ated for this re­gion through the sugar in­dus­try.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about the Aus­tralia Ru­ral Lead­er­ship Foun­da­tion, visit the web­site www.ru­ral-lead­ers.org.au.

PHOTO: FILE

EN­COUR­AG­ING OTH­ERS: Kelvin Grif­fin said de­spite the drought and prices for sugar, young farmers shouldn’t be de­terred from the in­dus­try.

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