As the end of North Queensland's crushing season looms nearer, concerns have been raised about the pressure put upon Herbert region harvesters to meet quotas and fill bins in time.
With the season end heading into another festive season, the issue of rat management at the Ingham mills has put an extra strain on workers to complete their crush, with the Herbert mills sitting at 88.04 per cent on November 13.
Wilmar Sugar and Renewables general manager of cane supply and grower relations, Paul Giordani confirmed that the last day of harvesting in the Herbert region will be November 22.
"This date is based on a number of underlying assumptions, including forecast factory throughputs and expectations that the final Herbert crop will fall to four million tonnes," he said.
"As per the terms of our Cane Supply Agreement, we provide Herbert growers with 10 business days' notice of the cessation of crushing.
"Over that period, we collate feedback from growers to ascertain whether this date is achievable."
Canegrowers Herbert River manager Frank Scardamaglia said his organisation was "not supportive of a season end date of the 22nd of November".
"There has been some mill issues recently which will push this end date out further. We believe that Wilmar's Herbert River mills need to revise their approach to deciding on an end date and consider the area harvesters need to cover rather than just tonnes remaining," he said.
"As the season progresses the tonnes per hectare decrease and this requires the area that needs to be covered to increase significantly.
"If the mill is to crush the same throughput per week this puts greater pressure on the field sector and we would like to see this taken into consideration.
"Canegrowers have requested Wilmar to commit to a staggered finish so all cane can be processed in an orderly manner without putting undue pressure on the field sector."
Canegrowers Herbert River and Queensland Canegrowers are working with Sugar Research Australia and Herbert Cane Productivity Services to address the rat issue in the Herbert River.
Rats have reportedly plagued the northern mills, eating out the cane and causing low yields.
"Queensland Canegrowers have applied for a permit to apply rat bat aerially via helicopter or UAV to regrowing ratoon crops across the district," Mr Scardamaglia said.
"This has just been confirmed so at least we have a number of options for applying RATOFF.
"SRA are also trialling four different flavours of RATOFF to see if they can find a more effective coating so the baits are more readily consumed by the rats."
AgFore cane director Chris Punzell said while "everyone's sort of battling along at the moment" across the region, there is hope the Ingham mills will "get there...and finish at a respectable time".
"Mackay is unsure. There is a lot of uncertainty in Mackay because the crop will fall off. We don't know how much or how quickly it will fall off. I think the miller would like to finish before Christmas," he said.
"Their aim is to finish before Christmas so they're given the opportunity to wash up the factory and set the stage for maintenance plan.
"There's a bit of work going on; rebuilding factories and systems at Nordzucker at Mackay Sugar. They always have a bit on their plate as well, trying to finish the crushing so they can move into their capital works program and a major refurbishment.
"They are working hard to finish and we're working with them to help them with that progress."
Last year's late finish resulted in a 13-15 per cent stand over, putting extra pressure on Mackay this season, while the drier weather system has enabled crushing progress.
"At present, the crop is falling away due to that dry system as well. We're nearing mid-November so if it doesn't rain from here on, it will continue to drop off," Mr Punzell said.
"Last year's crop was bigger than this one and a little bit unknown because it was never completed.
"On January 15, Mackay Sugar achieved 92.1 per cent (harvested)...it possibly will not be as late as last year. There are a lot of growers who probably won't go past Christmas Eve this year.
"There's nothing to be gained by harvesting and also having cane that didn't eventuate into a crop for the following season. These are interesting times."
Kalamia Mill is showing positive returns, sitting at nearly 100 per cent.
It is expected to crush out by the end of the week.
More controversary in the northern milling world has put the spotlight on Far Northern Milling's (FNM) Mossman Mill this week, with speculations circulating that the mill won't be in operation next season.
CEO Bronwyn Dwyer said the reduction in the tonnage and CCS from the original 2023 season forecast "will result in a significant drop in sugar production which has placed the operation of the mill for the 2024 season in jeopardy".
"It is imperative that the mill is operational for the 2024 season as growers have forward priced sugar and planted and fertilised the crop for next season," Ms Dwyer said.
"The Board of FNM is working with stakeholders to secure the funds required to operate the mill for the 2024 season."
On November 10, a letter from FNM chairperson Rajinder Singh was sent to growers, stating the FNM had been "forced to reconsider" whether Mossman Mill was in a financial position to crush for the 2024 season.
"The viability of the Mill for the 2024 season can no longer be assured," the letter read.
The factors behind change in position were cited as a "significant reduction in actual crop tonnage as against that which was forecasted at the beginning of the 2023 season", "significant reduction in actual CCS (commercial cane sugar) as against that which was forecasted", "extended cane supply stoppages", and "adverse weather conditions".
Growers were advised to consider 2024 season pricing and farming expenditure as matters of priority.
"Growers should strongly consider whether they continue pricing beyond the date of this correspondence," the letter read.
"We continue to engage with (Queensland Sugar Limited) in respect of matters concerning grower pricing.
"Growers should strongly consider their farming and operational expenditure beyond the date of this correspondence.
"We continue to work with our advisors in respect of the financial position of the company, and the viability of the Mossman Mill moving forward.
"We will revert to growers once a path forward becomes clear. We expect to be in a position to provide growers with further information in the week commencing 20 November 2023."
Mossman currently employs between 130-150 employees within the milling operation and supports around 500 indirect jobs in the local community, as well as 85 contracted growers.