Australia’s sugarcane industry is one of the nation’s biggest rural industries and sugarcane is Queensland’s largest agricultural crop. The industry is primarily located along Australia’s eastern coastline, from Mossman in far north Queensland to Grafton in northern New South Wales.
Over 4000 cane farms grow sugarcane on around 380,000 hectares annually. There are 24 mills, owned by 8 separate milling companies.
The industry’s major product is raw crystal sugar, which is sold to refineries both domestically and abroad. Approximately 95% of Australian raw sugar is produced in Queensland with the balance from Northern New South Wales.
Up to 35 million tonnes of sugarcane is grown each year. Over a season, the sugarcane crop can produce up to 4.5 million tonnes of raw sugar, 1 million tonnes of molasses and 10 million tonnes of bagasse (a fibrous cane residue, which fuels boilers to co generate steam and electricity).
Approximately 85% of the raw sugar produced in Queensland is exported, generating up to $2.0 billion in export earnings for Queensland.
Sugar mills are almost self-sufficient in energy. By burning the fibrous cane residue, bagasse, they generate electricity and steam for factory operations. In addition, more than half of the renewable electricity generated (around 500 GWh) is exported to the electricity network. The use of renewable bagasse to produce ‘green’ biomass energy reduces the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by over 1.5 million tonnes annually.
The Australian sugar cane industry has undergone significant rationalisation over the past decade. Several mills have closed and a number of growers have left the industry, resulting in an amalgamation of farming and harvesting operations. Changes to mill ownership has promoted greater efficiency of operations. The sugar industry directly employs about 4,000 people across the growing, harvesting, milling and transport sectors, with a further 12,000 employed indirectly.