The Condong Sugar Mill.
The Condong Sugar Mill. Scott Davis

Condong Sugar Mill offers Gold Coast sugar industry lifeline

A TWEED sugar mill has offered a lifeline to Gold Coast canegrowers, negotiating to move their product across the border following ongoing problems with the Rocky Point Sugar Mill.

Sunshine Sugar, which operates three mills at Condong, Broadwater and Harwood, is working with northern Gold Coast growers to have their cane transported to their nearest sugar mill at Condong in the Tweed Shire to help keep the Gold Coast sugar industry viable.

Chief executive Chris Connors said the company was in "negotiations with a number of growers” to "get their cane on our mills”.

"Over the last three years the Rocky Point Mill hasn't been able to crush all the cane up there and we're looking at how to sustain that industry,” he said.

"We're working with them and looking at the best options. We think for their sustainability it's an arrangement that will see them in Condong for the long term.”

The move comes as a blow for the Gold Coast sugar industry, which has struggled since a fire in November 2016 saw the Rocky Point Sugar Mill go up in flames during a busy point of the harvesting season, leaving many cane farmers there in financial ruin.

At the Meeting of Sugar Mills and Growers at Ballina RSL club Cheif Executive officer of N S W Sugar Milling Co Operative Ltd Chris Connors.13-12-2010. Doug Eaton
Sunshine Sugar chief executive Chris Connors. DOUG EATON

But Mr Connors said his company would not be taking dollars away from the Rocky Point Mill as it was not fully operational anway.

"You have to look at it in a realistic view, if they keep going the way it's going, the grower won't get the cane cut, at the moment 23 per cent of the cane isn't getting cut. You're better getting it down to us and getting it cut down here,” he said.

"We're saying let's get in and see if we can make sure they're there for the future.”

However, Mr Connors said the deal may not happen at all, with many cane farmers on the Gold Coast pushing to have their farmland rezoned as residential so they can sell off their land at a high price and exit the industry.

"At the end of the day they may turn around and rezone that land, that's what some of the growers want to happen, but we've got to make sure the growers that still want to be cane growers are still there,” he said.

Mr Connors said this year's harvest plan was "on track”, with 1.9 million tonnes of cane set to hit his company's three Northern Rivers mills, with half a million tonnes heading to Condong.

The crushing season is expected to get underway mid-June.