The Australian Sugar Milling Council has labelled talk of a sugar strike as disappointing, and threats of more government intervention in the ongoing marketing dispute as "unhelpful".
The comments came as Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce warned he would intervene if the sugar agreements were not finalized.
Australian Sugar Milling Council chief executive Dominic Nolan said progress was being made in the commercial negotiations between the country’s largest sugar producer, Wilmar, and its 1,500 or so growers in north Queensland.
Mr. Nolan said the fact Wilmar remained the only milling company to not reach an agreement with growers or marketing company, Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL), was no reflection of a lack of effort or good will on its part.
He said, instead, blame should be attributed to the flawed legislation passed in the Queensland Parliament more than one year ago. "It has cost this industry millions of dollars in terms of negotiating new commercial arrangements," Mr. Nolan said.
With crushing season only 20 weeks away, growers in the cane districts of Herbert, Burdekin, Plane Creek and Proserpine who remain without a cane supply agreement with Wilmar are running out of time. Cane grower representatives recently threatened some growers were willing to leave their cane in the paddock rather than be forced to sell their economic share of sugar through Wilmar.
Mr. Nolan added, “There is no question we are in very challenging times. My understanding is that there is progress being made around commercial negotiations. But these things can only be resolved at a regional level between growers and their mills, and our great concern from the outset which we certainly failed in terms of the Queensland legislation, is to keep government intervention out of it.”