Australia’s sugar manufacturing industry is one of the nation’s biggest rural industries. Sugar mills are primarily located along Australia’s eastern coastline, from Mossman in far north Queensland to Grafton in northern New South Wales.
The 24 sugar manufacturing mills, owned by 8 separate companies, purchase approximately 380,000 hectares of sugarcane from around 4000 farms annually.
Sugar mill’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.
From approximately the 35 million tonnes of sugarcane harvested in a season, sugar millers manufacture around 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. Approximately, 4,500 people are directly employed in sugar manufacturing. In total, over 21,000 people are employed in the sugar industry, from suppliers of mill goods and services to growers and farm workers.