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Australian Sugarcane Industry Overview

Industry location and make up

The Australian sugarcane industry is located mainly along Australia’s eastern coastline, from Mossman in far north Queensland to Grafton in northern New South Wales. There are approximately 4400 cane farming entities growing sugar cane on a total of 380,000 hectares annually, supplying 24 mills, owned by 7 separate milling companies. The vast majority of cane farms are owned by sole proprietors or family partnerships. The mill ownership structures are a combination of  publicly owned entities, privately held companies limited by guarantee, and co-operatives.

Sugar map



Major products

The industry’s major product is raw crystal sugar, which is sold to refineries both domestically and abroad. Approximately 95% of Australian sugar produced comes from Queensland with the balance from Northern New South Wales.

The Australian sugarcane industry is one of Australia’s largest and most important rural industries with sugarcane being Queensland’s largest agricultural crop. Up to 35 million tonnes of sugarcane is grown on about 380,000 hectares annually.  This sugarcane crop can produce up to 4.5 million tonnes of raw sugar, 1 million tonnes of molasses and 10 million tonnes of bagasse annually.  Approximately 85% of the raw sugar produced in Queensland is exported, generating up to $2.0 billion in export earnings for Queensland. Production from the New South Wales sugar industry is refined and sold into the domestic market.

Green energy

Sugar mills are self-sufficient in energy, burning the sugar processing by-product bagasse, (which is a renewable fuel) to generate electricity and steam for factory operations.  In addition, more than half of the electricity generated (around 500 GWh in 2014) is exported to the electricity network supporting electricity infrastructure and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power generation.  The use of renewable bagasse for the production of ‘green’ energy reduces the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by over 1.5 million tonnes annually.

Industry changes

The Australian sugar cane industry has undergone significant rationalisation in the production and processing sectors over the past decade with the closure of several mills as well as a departure of growers from the industry and subsequent amalgamation of farming and harvesting operations. This rationalisation has already seen some changes in terms of mill ownership and structures to promote greater cohesion and efficiency of operations, with an expectation that this could continue. The sugar industry directly employs about 16,000 people across the growing, harvesting, milling and transport sectors.