The Queensland Government has called a high level meeting next week in an attempt to resolve the growing crisis in the sugar industry over export marketing.
Canegrowers are furious with Australia’s biggest sugar processor – Singapore-owned Wilmar Sugar – for announcing it will pull out of a single desk export marketing pool in 2017.
North Queensland Federal MP George Christensen described it as a “bastard act”, while Canegrowers chief executive Brendan Stewart accuses Wilmar of trying to “divide and conquer”.
“This is about confidence for the next generation of cane farmers, so that’s why there’s so much passion in the debate,” Mr Stewart said.
Landline understands Queensland’s Agriculture Minister John McVeigh has called all parties to a meeting on Tuesday in an attempt to break the deadlock.
“The minister is trying to do is the right thing,” Mr Stewart said.
“He’s trying to get the people around the table seek some consensus about at least a direction going forward.
“It is about compromise, and I think there’s will on the growers’ side.”
Wilmar wants to break a 100-year-old tradition
Wilmar wants to break away from a century-old single desk, which requires all sugar exports to be marketed through a former state-owned entity, Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL).
“The basis of the new marketing model is that growers have an opportunity to access improved returns,” Wilmar’s executive general manager for north Queensland, John Pratt, said.
“The leadership of Canegrowers need to explain why they don’t want their members to be part of a system that would deliver them extra income.”
Wilmar bought into the Australian market four years ago, and now processes nearly half of the country’s annual production.
Earlier this week, the Asian giant released figures to show growers would have been $4 per tonne of cane better off under its marketing arrangements over the past two seasons.
But Canegrowers’ management is unimpressed.
“If you’re in a monopolistic situation and you’re being told what’s going to happen for the next 15 years … then I think growers have got a right to ask some very serious questions,” Mr Stewart said.
“QSL has an obligation to maximise returns, it’s not a profit-making entity.
“Wilmar on the other hand, has no such obligations to canegrowers, in fact its obligation are quite fairly and squarely to their shareholders.”
Nonetheless, Canegrowers says the dispute has not soured its attitude to overseas company investing in Australian agriculture.
“This is not a debate about foreign investment, this is a debate about a proposal that has been put on the table,” Mr Stewart said.
“Australia, is small country, we don’t have access to cheap capital.
“(But) I think what’s also important is when people do come to invest that they do it in a collaborative way and it’s not used to extract monopoly rents out of exiting farmers.”