Canefarmers Leyton and Austin, 7, Petersen outside the Maryborough Sugar Factory, which has now closed.
Canefarmers Leyton and Austin, 7, Petersen outside the Maryborough Sugar Factory, which has now closed.

End of an era: Canegrowers react to closure of M’boro mill

THE billowing white cloud from the sugar mill stack will no longer be seen on the Maryborough skyline.

Confirmation of the historic mill's closure however has at least ended months of uncertainty for the region's growers with confirmation cane will instead be crushed at Isis from 2021.

For fifth generation Nikenbah canegrower Ashley Petersen, it signalled the end of an era.

"It's not something to take lightly, 126 years," he said of how long the mill had been operating in the region.

"Those generations have been supplying the mill for all that time."

Mr Petersen said the decision had dragged out after it was announced MSF Sugar was in the process of selling than 5000 hectares of Maryborough cane land to Australian company Rural Funds Management for $81.1 million.

Despite the news, Mr Petersen said it had been a solid year, with his farm producing one of the best crops it has had in quite a while.

"Probably overall the season was only average, but for us it was better than average," he said.

Mr Petersen said he and other growers in the region would continue to grow cane and were looking to the future, despite the sad news.

A spokesman for MSF Sugar said further comment would be made by the company, but at the moment it was speaking with its workers.

Canegrowers Maryborough chairman Jeff Atkinson said the announcement from MSF Sugar that it will stop operating the Maryborough Mill and instead arrange for contracted sugarcane to be crushed elsewhere ended six months of uncertainty and speculation for growers.

He said it had been a solid year for the region's growers, with almost 630,000 tonnes of cane being crushed, despite a dry start to the season.

"While the news about the mill is disappointing for us and the community, the confirmation that an agreement is well advanced between MSF Sugar and Isis Central Sugar Mill for our cane to be processed in Childers has provided a degree of certainty for the future," Mr Atkinson said.

"MSF Sugar has a responsibility to ensure growers are not disadvantaged and that arrangements are made to satisfy its obligations under our current Cane Supply Agreement with the company.

"While we have been working together to negotiate with the Isis Mill about the option of the contracted cane going there under an arrangement called toll crushing, we do hold concerns over some issues that are not yet resolved."

Canegrowers Maryborough is advocating strongly for growers to ensure the process continues with a sense of urgency.

This includes discussing an ongoing agreement with the Isis Central Sugar Mill beyond the two years of any toll crushing agreement.

"We remain confident that there is a bright future for growing sugarcane in the Maryborough region, and we will engage constructively to ensure that happens," Mr Atkinson said.