Pinevale farmers encourage diversification for success
A GOOD run with the mills, better-than-expected bin allotments and a solid run of good harvesting weather has meant a pretty decent season for Pinevale’s Melissa and Andrew Deguara.
The couple runs a diverse operation of cattle, sorghum, cane, soya beans and other value-adding crops as market and opportunity present.
They have about 340ha under cane – 16 per cent of which will be planted, with the remaining all shooting from ratoons for the next season – and also run a harvesting contracting business.
For them, diversification is vital; something all growers need to be looking at to be sustainable in the longer term.
“Gone are the days when we were just sugar cane farmers,” Mr Deguara said.
“Now, we are farmers – that’s working all year around and working with multi-crops. We have to be adaptable – meet the needs of the market and be aware of, and able to respond to, the trends.”
Mrs Deguara said having economy of scale, planning for the tougher times when things were good, and looking at what alternate crops would work, were also drivers of a sustainable operation.
“We have about 150 breeders (cattle) and we have had to have them feeding on trash in the cane paddocks we have cut and we are growing sorghum now for either our own stock or for bales – it’s whatever the need is, we respond to that.
“You have to be always looking at your own operation. That’s where it all starts.
“We know we will have the times when we need to cut back on capital improvements on the farm, but the costs of input into the cane, that needs to stay constant.”
For the Deguaras, this crushing season has been something not seen for about 15 years.
“It just won’t warm up,” Mr Deguara said.
“But, we had forecasts that it was going to be dry and we could plan for that. We can irrigate and cut according to what needs to go when.”
The cold, though, is another story. During the spells of cold, sometimes sub-zero temperatures, throughout the region this winter, the Deguara’s Pinevale fields were heavily frost affected.
“We can plan for the dry, and we can water. But there is not a lot we can do about the cold,” Mr Deguara said.
“From a harvesting point of view it has been perfect this year, but not so much for the growth.
“We have had only 3mm of rain for the whole crush; we missed out on that good rain a lot of the others had.
“And as for the frost, we lost growth on the plant cane but it has all come back. Our other crops are still going along okay although it was rough on them, and the standing cane took a hit.”
Still, they just got on with it and managed where they cut and prioritised what had to get to mill soonest.
“The mills and Mackay Sugar’s operations have been going well this year and that has helped. If anything, we have struggled to keep up,” Mr Deguara said.
“It’s been the best we’ve seen in many years and the management and workers in the mills are to be congratulated for that.”
As for next year, as is always the case, it’s a wait-and-see affair.
The couple is happy they have no standover for the first year in a couple and the odd rogue storm might even be enough to set the growth on the right track for a good 2019 crush.
Yes, there’s the sugar price, the uncertainty around Mackay Sugar and those who are intent on being negative. But that’s not their concern.
“We just get on with doing what we have to and making sure we are looking after our operation. We can only work with, and do the best with, what we are given.”
LOOKING AHEAD: Pinevale’s Andrew and Melissa Deguara produce grain and cattle.