Sugar manufacturing is one of the nation’s biggest rural industries.
- Australia’s sugar mills are found along eastern coastline, from Mossman in far north Queensland to Grafton in northern New South Wales
- Eight companies own and run 24 sugar mills
- Mills purchase around 380,000 hectares of sugarcane – or 35 million tonnes of cane – from over 4000 farms each year
- Mills make around 4.5 million tonnes of raw sugar each year
- 95% of Australia’s raw sugar is produced in Queensland, and
- Up to 85% of the total raw sugar produced is exported, primarily to South Korea, Indonesia and Japan.
Mills crush the sugarcane to extract a sweet juice. The juice is crystallised and washed to produce raw sugar. Sugar refineries then buy the raw sugar and melt, purify and recrystallise it to produce white sugar. Refiners also make other types of sugar, mainly for use by food and drink manufacturers.
Approximately 85% of the raw sugar produced in Queensland is exported, generating up to $2.0 billion in export earnings for Queensland.
Sugar mills also produce one (1) million tonnes of molasses (a sweet treacle that is mostly used for stockfeed) and 10 million tonnes of bagasse or fibre per year. Bagasse is used to fuel the boilers that co-generate steam and electricity.
Sugar mills are almost self-sufficient in energy.
- Bagasse, the fibrous cane stalk that remains once the sugar juice has been extracted, is burnt in a boiler to co-generate electricity and steam to drive mill operations
- Mills only need to use half of the renewable electricity they generate (around 500 GWh) for their operations so the rest can be exported to the national electricity network
- By using renewable electricity, the sugar industry is able to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by over 1.5 million tonnes each year.
Over 4,500 people work in Australia’s sugar mills. and a total of 22,000 or more are employed in the sugar industry as a whole. Jobs range from boiler-makers, mechanics and cane train drivers and many local businesses also provide goods and services to maintain the mills. The industry also employs cane growers and farm workers.