Cane grower Mark Heidke is disappointed with the crush delays at Millaquin Mill, despite a multi-million-dollar upgrade.
Cane grower Mark Heidke is disappointed with the crush delays at Millaquin Mill, despite a multi-million-dollar upgrade. Mike Knott

Growers crushed by mill delays

CANE growers have questioned the much-vaunted $40 million upgrade of Millaquin Mill, as continued crush disruptions squander high sugar content levels and ideal harvest conditions.

The performance of Bundaberg Sugar’s flagship mill has been far below projected levels as the crush enters its eighth week.

Millaquin is now three-quarters of the way through its multi-million-dollar transformation, with more than $30 million invested in the mill since 2009.

Bundaberg Canegrowers chairman Allan Dingle said while initial teething problems had been accepted by growers in the Millaquin distribution area, they now wanted to see results.

“Growers remember last year only too well when good, early-harvest conditions could not be taken advantage of due to mill performance issues,” he said.

“Then the rains came and that contributed to the amount of stand-over cane left at the end of the season.”

The facility has battled with technical difficulties from the onset of the 2011 harvest season, processing

only about two-thirds of a proposed 68,000 tonnes in the pre-season crush, and failing to reach its target crush rate of 350 tonnes an hour.

Mr Dingle said growers were frustrated at not being able to take advantage of recent fine weather and high commercial cane sugar levels.

“So far growers have not been able to harvest at the rate they would like,” he said.

Grower and harvest contractor Mark Pressler said disruptions in the crush were starting to take a financial toll on local operators.

“We budgeted and put extra labour on to reach the targets that were set at the start of the season and now we’ve got staff standing around doing nothing,” he said.

Fellow grower Alwyn Heidke said Bundaberg Sugar needed to act quickly to ensure the season was not dragged out unnecessarily at the expense of farmers.

“It has been touted as being the answer to everybody’s problems, but in reality it has performed very badly,” he said.

“The situation needs to be rectified, and quickly.”

Bundaberg Sugar’s executive general manager of operations, Ray Hatt, asked growers to be patient as mill staff worked to fine-tune new equipment.

“People like to think that it’s all as simple as pressing a button, but in reality it doesn’t work like that,” he said.

Mr Hatt said the upgrade was not yet complete and asked that growers reserve their judgment until it was.

“It’s a four-year project and, when it’s finished, it will have a crush rate of 350 tonnes an hour, minimum,” he said.

The final stage of the upgrade will begin at the end of this year’s crush and is scheduled to be completed before the start of the 2012 harvest.