Herbert River canegrowers fear for future unless stalemate resolved

Herbert River canegrowers stand united against miller's tactics


Herbert River Canegrowers chair Michael Pisano addresses Saturday's meeting before Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Herbert River Canegrowers chair Michael Pisano addresses Saturday's meeting before Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

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Wilmar cane suppliers in the Herbert River are standing firm against the company's refusal to reach terms for an on-supply agreement with Queensland Sugar Limited.

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The current stalemate between Wilmar and Queensland Sugar Limited is leaving Herbert River canegrowers uncertain about their future but they remain united against the miller’s tactics, an industry leader said.

The two entities have been unable to reach terms on a on-supply agreement, which allows growers a choice on a marketing agent for their sugar. Wilmar is the only one of the seven milling companies not to have reached agreement with QSL. 

Michael Pisano, second generation grower and chair of the Herbert River Canegrowers, said growers had been negotiating with Wilmar since the miller cancelled contracts in 2014.

“We are not wanting to lock Wilmar out of having growers choose Wilmar but in the same respect we want growers to be able to choose QSL or other competition,” Mr Pisano said.

“We are after competition in the marketing arena and we see that a choice between Wilmar and QSL.”

Mr Pisano said the issue was creating enormous stress and uncertainty for cane growing families.

“There is a lot of stress,” Mr Pisano said.

“I am chairman of the Herbert River district and represent some 90 per cent of the suppliers in this district. 

“Growers are very upset and really concerned about what is happening.

Herbert River canegrowers are in limbo four months out from the start of the 2017 cane crush.

Herbert River canegrowers are in limbo four months out from the start of the 2017 cane crush.

“Not only are they concerned about the future, they are also concerned about the tactics of Wilmar. We cannot afford to have Wilmar run roughshod over us.

“Wilmar is determined to promote stress between families. People don’t know where they are going, people are holding off on investment.”

Mr Pisano said growers could be forced into making a decision earlier than the start of the next cane crush if they had financial commitments to meet.

“There is a deadline on when growers have a commitment they have to meet,” he said. “I suppose that is the tactic that Wilmar is trying.”

Canegrowers Herbert River District manager Peter Sheedy said Wilmar had a comfortable monopoly in the district but was abusing that position leaving growers in an “invidious” position. 

“We have a three year rolling agreement that was cancelled by Wilmar two years ago, a crop that is due to be harvested sometime in June and no supply agreement and no choice other than Wilmar to market that crop,” Mr Sheedy said.

“That’s the way Wilmar wants it but it is certainly not the way growers want it.

“Growers are holding out desperately because they have no trust in what Wilmar is planning for the long-term future of the Herbert River district.”

A Wilmar Sugar Australia spokeswoman said Wilmar had been been and continued to be, absolutely committed to finalising a commercially reasonable agreement with QSL for the sale of our raw sugar as soon as possible.

“We’ve met with QSL six times in the past four weeks and will meet again tomorrow to work through the relatively small number of outstanding issues,” she said.

“Wilmar has made significant concessions in the course of negotiations, however we cannot accept commercially unreasonable or prejudicial terms.

“We are confident agreement in principle with QSL can be achieved quickly, without need for legislative intervention, if both parties are open to adopting a reasonable commercial approach.

“While we understand concerns for an outcome, we caution that further legislative intervention will only frustrate the situation and damage the future prospects of the industry.

“Wilmar employs more than 2,000 people across its eight mills during the crushing season. We are focused on protecting the future of the sugar industry and these regional jobs.

“Our growers are important to us as our viability is dependent on theirs. 

“We will pay our 1,475 growers more than $730 million in cane payments and allowances for the 2016 crop.”

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