Cyclone Yasi devastates cane crops

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 3rd February 2011

SugarcaneAustralia’s sugarcane crop has suffered devastation as farmers venture out to survey their properties in the wake of category five Cyclone Yasi, whose destructive eye broke land at Mission Beach and passed over Tully, inland bound, last night.

Crops have been devastated in Yasi’s wake, the hardest hit being sugarcane – with initial loss estimates at around $500 million for the industry alone. A sugar-growing heartland, sugarcane growers in north Queensland will again bear the brunt of losses, followed by horticulture including bananas.

30% of Australia’s sugarcane crop is grown north of Townsville (contributing $1.95 billion in value to the north Queensland community), and sugar accounts for over half of far north Queensland’s agricultural value. While it is too early to count the exact costs of the devastation, growers believe that figure will be large and that losses will drag over many years.  Growers in the area supply major sugar processors such as Bundaberg Sugar (owned by Belgium’s Finasucre), the recently sold Sucrogen (now owned by Singapore’s Wilmar International) and the Maryborough Sugar Factory.

The loss is expected to put further pressure on the already high global sugar price.

“Many sugarcane growers in far north Queensland have lost everything – house, crop, machinery and livelihood during the devastating force of Cyclone Yasi,” reported sugar peak body CANEGROWERS CEO Steve Greenwood today.

“We’ve had reports from sugarcane farmers in Tully and surrounds of sugarcane crops which have snapped in half and whole farms that have been completely flattened. Trees are uprooted, roofs are missing and power poles are now lying as flat as the sugarcane,” he says.

Early reports are that the township of Tully has been devastated. But Yasi’s fury didn’t stop there. It has been felt over an area spanning hundreds of kilometres, from Cairns to the north, and Townsville to the south, and all the places in between. The area hardest hit is home to one of Australia’s largest sugarcane areas, with 30% of Australia’s crop grown north of Townsville – in the cyclone’s direct path.

Cane growers hundreds of kilometres from the eye are also reporting snapped and flattened crops, and they are now praying that it doesn’t flood. “There is a chance that cane that is not completely flattened may still come through with a reduced crop. Cane is resilient– and where it has not snapped off, or been inundated for days on end, there is still a chance that it may still yield something. So they are gunning for sunshine,” explains Greenwood.

While it is too early to assess the full damage bill, initial indications show that damage could be in the order of 50% of the productive potential of the region. The losses will translate over many years as sugarcane is a multiple year crop. Some growers have lost 100% of their crop, a blow from which they may never recover. The full impact will not become clear until growers have had the opportunity to venture back into devastated fields, and possibly until the commencement of harvesting in late June, when the impact of lower productivity resulting from broken, shredded, tangled and lodged cane can be accurately assessed. Harvest will be made more difficult because of the debris in the field.

CANEGROWERS said it will work closely with government to assist those growers who have lost their livelihood. In the meantime, CANEGROWERS will work with insurance companies, banks and financial institutions to help any of the growers in the area who need immediate assistance.