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Australian Sugarcane Industry Overview

Industry location and make up

The Australian sugarcane industry is primarily located along Australia’s eastern coastline, from Mossman in far north Queensland to Grafton in northern New South Wales. Approximately 4400 cane farms grow sugarcane on around 380,000 hectares annually.  They supply 24 mills, owned by 8 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 raw sugar is produced in Queensland with the balance from Northern New South Wales.

The Australian sugarcane industry is one of the nation’s biggest rural industries with sugarcane being Queensland’s largest agricultural crop.

Up to 35 million tonnes of sugarcane is grown each year.  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) 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 on the domestic market.

Green energy

Sugar mills are self-sufficient in energy.  They burn the fibrous cane residue, bagasse, to 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’ 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.  Several mills have closed and a number of growers have left the industry, resulting in an amalgamation of farming and harvesting operations. The rationalisation has seen changes in terms of mill ownership and structures to promote greater cohesion and efficiency of operations. The sugar industry directly employs about 16,000 people across the growing, harvesting, milling and transport sectors.