CANEGROWERS chairman says farewell

By Paul Schembri

This column, my last as chairman of CANEGROWERS Queensland, brings down the curtain on 39 years of fighting for the cane farming families of Queensland.

Four decades might seem like a long time, but upon reflection, it seems only yesterday that I attended my first meeting of the then Farleigh Mill Suppliers Committee.

It’s mind-blowing just how much the industry has changed since then.

When I first became a grower representative back in 1983, the industry was highly regulated at the marketing, cane production and institutional levels.

There was barely a scrap of regulation at the farm gate.

Fast forward 40 years and there is little or no macro or institutional regulatory arrangements, yet at the farm gate the level of regulation has multiplied 10-fold.

My time as CANEGROWERS chairman will always be remembered for the sugar marketing dispute, which ran from around 2013 to 2017.

Deregulation, which was touted as a great opportunity for cane farmers, saw growers stripped of marketing influence, leaving them on the wrong end of a serious imbalance of bargaining power between growers and large sugar milling companies.

Growers were rightly stirred to action and CANEGROWERS, along with other representative bodies, took up the fight, agitating for a fair go for Queensland’s sugarcane farmers.

That agitation led to Choice in Marketing legislation being passed by Queensland’s Parliament, and the introduction of the Federal Government’s Sugar Industry Code of Conduct.

So, what does the future hold for the sugar industry? While nobody can predict the future, sometimes our past can give us a clue.

The Australian sugar industry is 150 years old, and two things define it – change and adaptation.

The industry of 2022 is radically different to the industry of the 1980s when I started my representative career.

Clearly the industry in 2050 will be radically different to the industry of today.

For decades the sugar industry has been touted as the industry that could provide the foundation for biofuels, renewable energy, bio foods and bioplastics.

We have to make it happen.

I would like to thank the cane growers of Queensland for the great privilege of representing them over 39 years. I have given it my best.