A STALWART of Queensland's sugarcane industry who was credited with leading growers through one of the most turbulent periods in its history has died.
Fred Soper, a grower in the Marian region, was the Queensland Canegrowers chairman from 1982-1989, a time of great instability for the industry.
He died peacefully at Mirani on Friday night, aged 86.
Current Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri paid tribute to the 'true gentleman,' saying he worked for the greater good of growers and the sugar industry in difficult times.
"The 1980s were characterised by historically low sugar prices and the start of a period of deregulation for the industry," Mr Schembri said.
"At one point, sugar prices collapsed to as low as 2.5c/lb (US) which was devastating for Queensland's cane growers. By contrast prices today are at 15.6c/lb (US).
"At the same time, after decades of stability, the structures and rules under which the industry had operated were being stripped away and altered in a process of deregulation, with the most notable being the end of the sugar import embargo."
Mr Soper began representing fellow growers when he was elected to Marian Mill Suppliers Committee in 1964.
He served as Mackay Canegrowers chairman from 1979-1989 and in 1982 became one of the youngest men to lead the organisation at the state level.
"Mr Soper served growers with a fierce dedication," Mr Schembri said.
"One year he was away from his farm on Canegrowers business for 276 nights.
"He gave a 100 per cent commitment to the welfare of growers and was a true gentleman in the way he conducted himself."
Ms Schembri said Mr Soper's work carried him to the national and international stage.
"He attended the first ever world sugar growers congress in Mexico in 1981 before becoming president of the World Association of Beet and Canegrowers in 1987."
Canegrowers Mackay chairman Kevin Borg said Mr Soper was without doubt one of the most highly respected figures in the sugar industry in his time.
"Our industry, both locally, statewide and internationally, has been the beneficiary of Fred Soper's hard work and leadership," Mr Borg said.
"His contribution was instrumental in bringing about the strong industry which we are a part of today."
Mr Borg said Mr Soper had always been held in high regard by those who knew him and worked alongside him.
"I extend my condolences to his family and the many friends he has left behind. May his legacy live on," Mr Borg said.
Mr Soper is survived by his wife Nola, four children, 11 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.