The Annual General Meeting of Canegrowers Burdekin was held last Thursday night at Canegrowers Hall, Home Hill.

A full house received an update on performance for the past financial year together with a forecast of the financial results for the current year from Regional Manager, Debra Burden. 

Chairman Phil Marano provided an overview of efforts taken to reduce growers constantly increasing input costs mainly: 

Membership Levies:  Membership and Water Perils levies of 23 cents have been retained at the  same rate or lower since 2010

General Rates:  ongoing lobbying of the Burdekin Council to treat cane farmers fairly in regard to general rates.  Cane farms represents only 26% of the total land valuations in the region but cane farmers unfairly pay close to 50% of the general rates  

Insurance:  the introduction of the CANEGROWERS Insurance Broker service has saved many growers thousands of dollars in insurance premiums

Electricity:  Canegrowers have dedicated significant resources to lobby both the State and Federal Governments on the matter of the unsustainable increases in electricity prices.  For this year these efforts resulted in the State Government agreeing to a 10% increase in electricity pricing rather than the QCAs proposed 20% increase.  Worryingly indications are that the QCA may be proposing an increase of 27% for the 2014/15 year

Water:  as with Electricity, Canegrowers have dedicated significant resources to lobby the State Government in regard to fair treatment for all irrigators in the Burdekin 

Fertiliser:  Canegrowers implemented a “Retain Ravensdown in the Burdekin” campaign  

Phil spoke of the following additional activities that have kept Directors and Management occupied:

  •  initiating meetings with the other four Burdekin Collectives with the goal of leaving the politics aside and focusing on coordinating our efforts to reduce growers input costs.  Some support was gained in the areas of Ravensdown Fertiliser, insurance and Council general rates
  • revamping our communication and marketing to increase our profile both with members and the public.  This mainly included the ongoing upgrading of our weekly e-newsletter, now called canenews and the recent introduction of a facebook page, Twitter as an instant communication tool and our very own APP
  • unsuccessfully fighting to resurrect the Burdekin Agricultural College as NACETTA …the Northern Australia Centre for Excellence for Trade and Tropical Agriculture
  • successfully providing information and encouraging members to Vote and Vote Yes to establish Sugar Research Australia and in regard to the BSES asset transfer
  • successfully working with the CANEGROWERS Queensland Transport and Safety Committee to ensure the industry retained the right to transport cane bins uncovered
  • supporting the Burdekin Women in Sugar to host the WISA Annual Forum
  • finalising the constitution to allow for the establishment of  the new Burdekin Cane Auditing Services (BCAS).  It is anticipated that BCAS will be operational for the 2014 season
  • completing the Rural Water Use Efficiency Project  with  over $550k  allocated to over 30 projects
  • unsuccessfully endeavouring to introduce a Cane Contractors Association with the goal of strengthening this weak link in the supply chain
  • planning for the implementation of the new Smartcane BMP

Phil spoke of the reinstatement of Invicta Cane Growers Organisation Ltd (ICGO) as a collective/ representative body in competition to Canegrowers Burdekin by a break-away group led by former CANEGROWERS Qld Director and then Canegrowers Burdekin Deputy Chairman, Mr Mario Barbagallo.  Advising that not only did this incident result in the further splintering of the growers voice in the Burdekin (now five separate collectives) but the  financial impact on CBL of the loss  of the 70 members ( 850k tonnes) was significant,  reducing income by approximately $200k pa (20%) for future years.

Phil thanked long term directors Vince Papale and Gary Stockham both of whom did not seek re-election and welcomed our four new Directors being Steve Pilla, Roger Piva, Sib Torrisi and Arthur Woods.   Phil also thanked former Chairman, David Lando who took the opportunity to step back to the role of Deputy Chair. 

Phil advised attendees that on 15th August, 2013 we made a formal approach to Kalamia Cane Growers Organisation Ltd (KCGO) to merge. Saying our research indicated that a merger would provide real benefits to the members of both organisations by not only enhancing their own profitability and viability but also by improving the viability of the cane industry in the Burdekin. Financial modelling indicated that a merged entity may result in a reduction of membership fees of between 5 and 7 cents per tonne for members of both organisations and would provide a united voice which would represent approximately 4 million tonnes and 66% of all growers in the Burdekin.   The Board of KCGO declined our approach.

The two guest speakers for the night included the new Chair and the new CEO of CANEGROWERS Queensland, Mr Paul Schembri and Mr Brendan Stewart.  

Paul provided the meeting with an update on the work being undertaken by CANEGROWERS Queensland with particular focus on the benefit of unity and the doors this opens with Government, stating Government recognises that CANEGROWERS is the force in the cane industry, representing close to 80% of all cane farmers in the country. 

Paul also provided an overview of the work undertaken so far in regard to endeavouring to reach a sustainable solution with the Federal and the State Government on electricity pricing, plus the work being undertaken on free trade to rid the world of export subsidies to provide a level the playing field.  Paul spoke of the work undertaken to date to move towards growers having title to their two thirds of the raw sugar (Growers Economic Title)  as growers have a right to transparency and a say in marketing. 

New CEO, Brendan Stewart provided an overview of his farming background together with an overview of his time as CEO and Chair of the AWB, his time as Chair of the Grains Council of Australia and Vice President of the National Farmers Federation.   Brendan advised that his goal for his time with CANEGROWERS is to leave a legacy for the next generation of cane farmers  –  a legacy whereby CANEGROWERS Queensland is well resourced and well-structured to continue to take the fight up to Government.

Phil closed the meeting by stating “we remain optimistic about the future and moving towards our mission of becoming a truly effective, enduring and unifying force in maximising the profitability, productivity and sustainability of cane growers in the Burdekin, now and for the future.”