Breakdowns upset growers

POOR milling performance has plagued a profitable year for Mackay Sugar.

Growers expressed concerns about factory breakdowns, which they believe extended the 2013 crushing season, at the company's annual general meeting this week.

The AGM highlighted a modest $5.2 million profit but farmers feel the company focused too much on external projects and left the Mackay mills neglected.

However Mackay Sugar chairman Andrew Cappello said the company invested about $70 million into the core business in the year ending May 2014.

"Our focus for the current financial year is to improve cane rail and milling performance," he said.

"What the growers need to understand is that we have to grow the crop to increase the revenue to put back into the mills."

Marian Mill supplier Blair Watt said growers "turned the heat up" on directors at this year's meeting.

When mills continue to break down the season is extended, which then hampers the upcoming season.

"You have shorter growing time for the returns," Mr Watt said.

"This season should be finished now.

"Everyone is now worried we will get rain soon, then we will end up with cane left standing."

Dan Muscat, who also produces cane for Marian Mill, agreed the company's focus on external projects was a concern.

"Whilst there needs to be that future expansion, you can't expand until your mills are reliable to crush what is already being produced," he said.

However Mr Muscat said he left the meeting feeling positive growers' concerns were heard.

Mr Cappello said Mackay Sugar was targeting the mills' problems, which were causing breakdowns, "one big project at a time".

"Farleigh's boiler was this year, Marian's was last year ... we approved $11 million for the Farleigh boiler," he said.

Two new directors, Lee Blackburn and Paul Manning, have been appointed to the Mackay Sugar board.

Mr Cappello said he took his hat off to the new board members for choosing to step up to the task.

Topics:  agriculture cane farmer sugar

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