Canegrowers Proserpine manager Michael Porter said the industry needed to diversify to ensure resilience in the future. Picture: Laura Thomas
Canegrowers Proserpine manager Michael Porter said the industry needed to diversify to ensure resilience in the future. Picture: Laura Thomas

Turning sugar into soap: The ‘future' of the industry

A RENEWED push to diversify the sugar industry may mean everyday items like cups and soaps could be made in our mills in what the head of Proserpine Canegrowers called the "future" of the industry.

The sugar industry has remained relatively unscathed by the impacts of coronavirus unlike other key industries in the region such as tourism.

However, Proserpine Canegrowers manager Michael Porter said there was still opportunity for the industry to expand and diversify to meet the changing needs of the market.

"As an industry, we're always looking at other opportunities such as buyer futures," he said.

"There's a move by most agriculture these days to look for more value adding beyond the primary product.

"In terms of sugar, we're probably well placed with technology and research going ahead that we can start making things like plastics and recyclable products from the processing of raw sugar."

Proserpine Canegrowers president Michael Porter said there were plenty of opportunities in sugar cane farming beyond raw sugar. Picture: CAMERON BATES
Proserpine Canegrowers president Michael Porter said there were plenty of opportunities in sugar cane farming beyond raw sugar. Picture: CAMERON BATES

Disposable cups, soaps and cotton substitutes could also be made from the waste products of raw sugar.

Mr Porter said exploring these options would make the industry more resilient and less exposed to the price fluctuations of raw sugar.

"That's where the industry's future will lie; it's in and around value adding to the product that we've got," he said.

Diversifying the sugar industry has been on the agenda for several years and Mr Porter said a lot of sugar-based alternative products found in supermarkets were being explored overseas and imported to Australia.

In July 2019, a Sugar Research Australia commissioned report identified primary opportunities for the industry in electricity cogeneration, ethanol, food products and densified biomass, as well as secondary opportunities for special chemicals including sugar and animal feed.

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Mr Porter said for these ideas to become a reality, there would need to be collaboration between growers, millers and various levels of government.

"Time is running out for us to get involved in these types of products," he said.

"If we're going to try and catch up with other industries, we've got to shift our focus away from just raw sugar as being what it's all about.

"Because we've had significant challenges within the industry between natural disasters and low prices and shift in milling ownership, we've got to get down to sitting around the table, talking about these things and progressing them a little bit further than we have."