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Raw Sugar Industry Overview

Australia’s sugar mills manufacture and export raw sugar to sugar refineries at home and around the world. Growing sugarcane and the production of raw sugar is one of the nation’s biggest rural industries

  • Sugar mills are found along eastern coastal districts, from far north Queensland to northern New South Wales
  • Eight companies own and run 21 sugar mills
  • Mills purchase 32-35 million tonnes of cane from over 4500 farms each year
  • Mills make between 4 and 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.  

Major products

Sugarcane is crushed at the sugar mill to extract a sweet juice.  The juice is crystallised, washed and dried to produce raw sugar. As sugar mills produce a product that is not yet ‘food-grade,’ sugar refineries buy the raw sugar and melt, purify and recrystallise it to produce food-grade sugar.  Refiners make many types of sugar e.g. white, icing, demerara sugar for sale to consumers or 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 yearBagasse is used to fuel the boilers that co-generate steam and electricity. 

Green energy

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, sugar mills together are able to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by over 1.5 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent each year.


Over 4,500 people work in the mills and around 23,000 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, crop harvesters and farm workers.