Townsend Industries directors Graham Townsend and Gary Townsend at the Port of Mackay. The father son duo have been granted more than $300,000 to diversify the products able to be produced from sugar cane. Picture: Zizi Averill
Townsend Industries directors Graham Townsend and Gary Townsend at the Port of Mackay. The father son duo have been granted more than $300,000 to diversify the products able to be produced from sugar cane. Picture: Zizi Averill

$1 million investigation to unpack biohub in Mackay

A MILLION dollar investment could unpack a Mackay grown supercrop, unlocking the region's food and bio-manufacturing future.

Townsend Industries director Graham Townsend said his family had lived and worked in Mackay's cane fields for four generations, but it was time for a radical change to save the flailing industry.

Mr Townsend said for years the industry was "in the doldrums", with cane producing land sold off as growers fought against low sugar returns.

"We need to bring our farmers back into production," he said.

"We need the industry to get back on top again.

"There are hundreds of products cane can make …(but) all we produce is sugar and molasses in Mackay."

His son, Gary Townsend, said sugar cane was a "supercrop" able to be transformed into hundreds of products, which would double, even triple, on farm profits.

Townsend Industries directors Gary Townsend and Graham Townsend at the Port of Mackay. The father son duo have been granted more than $300,000 to diversify the products able to be produced from sugar cane. Picture: Zizi Averill
Townsend Industries directors Gary Townsend and Graham Townsend at the Port of Mackay. The father son duo have been granted more than $300,000 to diversify the products able to be produced from sugar cane. Picture: Zizi Averill

Their business has secured more than $300,000 in state grants to trial a new separating machine, which would expand what products could be extracted by the mills.

This was the first step in a race to turn the region into an agricultural leader, Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert said.

Mrs Gilbert said the state would invest $1 million to explore a business case for a food and biomanufacturing hub at the Port of Mackay and the Rosella Industrial Estate.

Mrs Gilbert said the hub would look for opportunities to use foods too ugly for the supermarket shelves and not salvageable by industry.

She said a single stick of sugar cane could be turned into wax, timber, plastics, carbon bricks, pharmaceuticals and food packaging.

Mrs Gilbert said the region needed to invest in new agricultural technologies, or risk being left behind by the rest of the world.

"We need to keep growing what we're doing," she said.

"One thing that breaks farmers hearts is watching things they grow not get used," Mrs Gilbert said.

Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert announcing of a $1 million business case analysis for a biohub at the Port of Mackay. Picture: Zizi Averill
Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert announcing of a $1 million business case analysis for a biohub at the Port of Mackay. Picture: Zizi Averill

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Mrs Gilbert said the region's young workforce would find a reason to stay in Mackay, as more high tech jobs were unlocked.

"The one thing COVID has done is wake us up to the need to manufacture things here," she said.

If the biohub business case stacked up, Mrs Gilbert said the centre would allow agricultural innovators, producers and investors to come together.

Townsend Industries director Graham Townsend, left, Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert, TI director Gary Townsend and State Development Minister Kate Jones at the announcement of a $1 million business case analysis for a biohub at the Port of Mackay. Picture: Zizi Averill
Townsend Industries director Graham Townsend, left, Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert, TI director Gary Townsend and State Development Minister Kate Jones at the announcement of a $1 million business case analysis for a biohub at the Port of Mackay. Picture: Zizi Averill

Mrs Gilbert said the funding package was not dependant on Labor winning government in the October election.

Greater Whitsunday Alliance CEO and Mackay Isaac Whitsunday Bio-Futures committee chair Kylie Porter said the region was ready to lead a thriving future foods industry for Queensland.

"A Mackay future foods biohub will provide another exciting opportunity for our food production and processing sectors," Ms Porter said.

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State development Minister Kate Jones and Townsend Industries director Graham Townsend at the announcement of a $1 million business case analysis for a biohub at the Port of Mackay. Picture: Zizi Averill
State development Minister Kate Jones and Townsend Industries director Graham Townsend at the announcement of a $1 million business case analysis for a biohub at the Port of Mackay. Picture: Zizi Averill

"A biohub will add value to our existing agricultural sectors by diversifying the customer base, creating higher-value uses for produce and reducing levels of produce waste.

"The additional focus on innovation and technology will also create more knowledge-intensive jobs in the region."

State Development Minister Kate Jones said Mackay growers were ready to tap into the growing $44 billion global market for future foods.

"Not only are we looking at bioplastics, but how we can value add to other products," Ms Jones said.

"Queenslanders are tired of seeing food going to waste."