The Sugarcane Industry

Sugarcane is grown mainly along the coastal strip from Mossman and the Atherton Tablelands in North Qld to Grafton in northern NSW. A small-scale industry has also been established in the Ord River district of WA.
There are over 6000 cane farmers in Australia. The majority of Australia’s cane farms are owned and operated by families. Most farms range in size from 30 to 350 hectares, but with a growing trend towards much larger farms.
The total harvested area of sugarcane in Australia is around 400,000 hectares.
The sugar industry is a major focus of the economies in many regional towns. Queensland’s raw sugar industry directly employs more than 15,000 people in the growing, milling, storage, marketing and refining of raw sugar. Indirectly, a further 20,000 jobs are generated.

Sugarcane is grown from setts (cuttings from mature cane stalks) planted in rows.
Each sett grows a stool (or cluster) of about 8 to 12 cane stalks. As the young cane grows, the crop is cultivated or sprayed with a herbicide to control weeds. Fertilisers are applied to the crop to promote growth.

Sugarcane grows for 10 to 18 months before being harvested. Mature sugarcane is usually harvested between June and December when the sugar content is at its highest.
All sugarcane grown in Australia is harvested mechanically by self-propelled harvesting machines.
There are two methods most commonly used for harvesting sugarcane — green cane or burnt cane harvesting.

Ratoon cane
Whether the cane is harvested burnt or green, the stubble of the plants is left behind in the soil where it grows new shoots. This re-growth is called a ’ratoon’ crop. One sugarcane plant usually grows three or four ratoon crops.
After a final ratoon crop has been harvested, the remaining roots are ploughed out and the ground is usually fallowed for a year. Legumes are often grown on the fallow ground to rejuvenate the soil. After the land has been rested it is ploughed and replanted with sugarcane.

Farm yields
Advanced farming practices and new varieties of cane have enabled the Australian sugar industry to more than double its productivity in the past 60 years. Today, a hectare of land typically yields 80–100 tonnes of cane from which some 10–15 tonnes of raw sugar are produced.

The Australian domestic market for raw sugar is over one million tonnes. At about 4 million tonnes annually, Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of raw sugar. Major export customers include Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Malaysia.

As an efficient net producer of energy, the Australian raw sugar industry efficiently recycles by-products such as crop residues and produces useful products such as ethanol, molasses and electricity. Trash bales are also used to feed stock during times of drought.

Drawn from material prepared by Queensland Sugar Corporation and Australian Cane Farmers Association.