Last Coast cane farmers dealt another crushing blow
THE Sunshine Coast's last remaining cane farmers have been dealt another hammer blow, with road transport curfews slashing harvest windows.
The result is farmers have been left with unviable operations, unable to get their cane to the Maryborough Mill, unless a compromise can be made to keep their operations on life support.
Maryborough Mill had been running B-double trucks down to cane farmers along the Maroochy River since the Nambour Mill closed down in 2003.
A permit allowing the B-doubles to operate expired in February, but when it was eventually renewed by the Department of Transport and Main Roads, curfews had been extended barring trucks from any night operation.
Curfews had been in place for two 90-minute windows during peak-hours during the day, but the cutting of night operations meant farmers were now having to wait to begin harvesting of a morning, and trucks could now only operate in six hours out of 24, instead of 21.
Coast cane farms had contributed about eight per cent of all volume for the Maryborough Mill, which equated to about 50,000 tonnes of sugar cane.
Maroochy River cane farmer Garry Peterson said they'd been supplying Maryborough Mill for the past four or five years.
Should there be more flexibility for farmers with road transport curfews?
This poll ended on 27 August 2019.
Yes, it would make them easier to do their job.
No, I think the curfews are fair.
I'm not sure.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
He said the cut to crush time was "quite critical" for sugar cane, and they'd previously been able to do at least 20 B-double loads a day, but were now only able to harvest 11 loads with the restrictions.
"It just doesn't add up for us," he said.
"Potentially, it could close us."
Mr Peterson's farm had been in the family since 1951, and his eldest son and 92-year-old father both still worked on the property.
He said the price of sugar made it hard enough as is, without added hurdles like the curfews.
"We always thought they'd be 10-15 years away at least from that (curfews and restrictions)," Mr Peterson said.
Maryborough Mill cane supply manager Chris Coutts-Smith said massive population growth in the region over the past decade had brought issues like transport to the fore, but discussions had been limited about how to navigate them.
"We've got some pretty good growers down there (Sunshine Coast)," he said.
Mr Coutts-Smith said they were in negotiations with the department to try and resolve the current situation by using private pilot vehicles to guide the trucks during the peak periods and he remained hopeful of a positive outcome.
He said the loss of volume was affecting the mill and his main concern was their commitments made to local growers.
A department spokesman said the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator's national notice renewal had removed Coast access and a Department assessment of proposed routes found some posed an "unacceptable safety risk".
The spokesman said the routes were unable to meet safety guidelines for width of road and sight distances, and increased traffic in Bli Bli meant the risks were too great.
"There were also community concerns about congestion, dust and noise," the spokesman said.
Ninderry MP Dan Purdie said the sugar industry had supported generations of hard-working families and agricultural heritage was an important part of the Coast's lifestyle.
He said it was "simply disgraceful" that an "arbitrary decision" like this could be made that would destroy livelihoods and signal the end of an era.
He said a lack of investment in road infrastructure by the State Government had compounded the problem, and it was another blow to farmers grappling with low sugar prices.
"This is yet another once proud and profitable industry that has fallen victim to a do-nothing, integrity plagued Labor government whose priorities are simply all wrong," he said.