Today's shed meeting in Farleigh. Picture: Canegrowers
Today's shed meeting in Farleigh. Picture: Canegrowers

Canegrowers fear hundreds could walk away from sugar

HUNDREDS of cane farmers could walk away from the industry for good if controversial reef regulations are added to their list of woes.

That was the message from Queensland Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri at today's shed meeting of growers in Farleigh.

Mr Schembri said the "bureaucratic intrusion" on farmer's lives from the reef regulations would cost the industry and regional economies.

"Could it be the breaking point for many farmers? Yes, it could," he said.

"We do know that last year the industry contracted by about 12,500 hectares - that's half a sugar mill.

"Among a myriad of factors, one of the reasons why they've decided to perhaps leave the industry is this threshold of reef regulations.

"When farmers leave, they rarely come back."

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A senate inquiry into the regulations - enacted in a bid to improve the quality of run off water into the Great Barrier Reef - began last month.

Cane grower Kevin Borg speaking to LNP senator for Queensland Susan McDonald. Picture: Melanie Whiting
Cane grower Kevin Borg speaking to LNP senator for Queensland Susan McDonald. Picture: Melanie Whiting

The regulations place strict limits and monitoring measures on canefarmers and include a push to reduce end-of-catchment pesticide loads by at least 60 per cent.

One more day of senate hearings is scheduled on August 28.

Mr Schembri said it was important to continue debating the regulations.

"I think it's best for farmers that we continue to escalate this issue - we need fairness," he said.

"We live in the smart state, the clever country, surely we can get the balance right between the sustainability of the reef and the sustainability of agriculture."

LNP senator for Queensland Susan McDonald and LNP candidate for Whitsunday Amanda Camm attended today's shed meeting.

Ms Camm said the party had made a commitment to repeal aspects of the regulations and work with industry groups, if elected on October 31.

LNP candidate for Whitsunday Amanda Camm. Picture: Melanie Whiting
LNP candidate for Whitsunday Amanda Camm. Picture: Melanie Whiting

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"The number one issue we are hearing from farmers is consistent," she said.

"It doesn't matter whether they are farming in the Burdekin or Mackay, they can no longer afford the cost impost of the current regulations and the imposed regulations that will soon come into play as part of the reef regulations.

"What is really critical in this region is that we need our sugar mills to remain viable, because the loss of another sugar mill equates to around 400 jobs in manufacturing in this region."

Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert said the reef regulations were necessary to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

"The reef regulations have been put together and developed with decades of peer reviewed, expert scientific evidence," Mrs Gilbert said.

"The government has supported cane growers.

"Since 2009, we have invested $120 million in supporting reef catchments to help farmers improve pratices.

"Last year, we added an extra $10 million in rebates to help farmers implement the reef regulations."