'Blessing and a curse': 130 sugar cane farms inundated

3rd April 2017 6:40 AM
Sugar cane growers on the Northern Rivers are moving staff and equipment to high ground. Sugar cane growers on the Northern Rivers are moving staff and equipment to high ground. Contributed

THE worst affected cane growing area in NSW is the Tweed Valley; with more than 130 farms, the Condong Sugar Mill and Murwillumbah Packaging Plant experiencing varying degrees of inundation.

The Condong Sugar Mill in McLeod Street, which sits on the bank of the Tweed River, is experiencing major flooding with some 1.5 metres of water currently inundating the site. Emergency procedures were implemented yesterday, which saw 85 local staff evacuated as the river level monitoring reached their cut-off.

Some farmers in the Tweed have described the fast rising flood waters that came ahead of the strong wind as both a "blessing and a curse" as the water that has inundated crops is managing to hold much of the cane upright.

Further south, the Broadwater Sugar Mill and surrounding growers are not expected to be as adversely affected. Whilst the Wilson River flooding is significantly impacting the town of Lismore, the lower Richmond River is holding below major flood level at this stage.

The Broadwater Sugar Mill, which employs 83 staff, has implemented emergency procedures and is taking the precaution of moving plant and equipment up and monitoring river heights.

Richmond growers are also actively securing machinery and equipment across almost 260 farms.

The Harwood Mill is not at risk with the Clarence River catchment not as heavily affected, which is seeing the lower Clarence river heights holding at below minor flood level.

Chris Connors, CEO of Sunshine Sugar commented; " Whilst it is still too early to assess impacts to plant, machinery and crops, it is expected that the Condong Sugar Mill and surrounding farms will have suffered damage. As soon as it is safe, we will have staff at the ready to clean up the Mill site and visit growers to assist where we can."

The flooding on the Tweed and Wilson rivers are considered to be the worst on record since the 1950's.

Mr Connors went onto say; "Whilst this flood event is significant, it is a part of life on these big rivers. I am confident our staff and growers will band together in cleaning up in the aftermath of this flood and set about preparing for the 2017 crush season set to commence in a couple of months time."

In 1978, the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative Ltd was formed when cane growers purchased the three NSW sugar mills from CSR.

In 1989, NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative Ltd formed a partnership with Manildra Group to form the joint venture partnership Manildra Harwood Sugars and built the Harwood refinery which is located alongside the Harwood Mill.

In June 2015, the members of NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative Ltd supported a proposal to merge the refining and milling operation under the Sunshine Sugar partnership.