Whilst the annual cane crushing season has started, with two of the three NSW sugar mills up and running; the work that has taken place behind the scenes, along with what is still needed to get the third sugar mill fully operational in the short term, is nothing short of enormous.
Agriculture across the board in the Northern Rivers region has been shattered, with an estimated half a billion dollars in damages incurred.
As one of the oldest and largest agricultural industries in the region, Sunshine Sugar’s milling and refining operations sustained over $45m in immediate damages. Then there is the damage to cane crops which is impacting on the production of sugar and the availability of sugar for the refinery, which supplies some 20% of the domestic market.
Outside of the milling and refining operations, we have almost 500 local canefarming families relying on us to process their cane, many of whom have been heavily impacted, losing their homes along with crops, machinery and equipment.
Sunshine Sugar CEO, Mr Chris Connors said; “The Anchor government grant package is incredibly important in the short term, but it just isn’t enough.”
“We have been consulting with both State and Federal Governments looking to increase the Anchor grant from $50m up to $100m and increase the timeline on expenditure so longer-term projects can receive assistance.” Mr Connors added.
A number of business leaders in the Northern Rivers are calling for an increase in funding and expanded guidelines.
Agriculture is the lifeblood of the region, supporting thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in contribution to the local economy.
The fear is that a lack of support for local producers, processors, and manufacturers, ultimately means a lack of support for the entire Northern Rivers communities.
Furthermore, many businesses, whether large, medium or small, now face the prospect of no longer having any flood insurance cover, making the cost of rebuilding and mitigating future impacts fraught with significant risk.
The longer-term planning and work required around future flood mitigation needs to be supported by Government, in terms of funding, but also in terms of allocation of those funds over an adequate timeline in order to support the planning and implementation of those mitigation works.
Mr Connors advised: “Sunshine Sugar has appointed WMA Water to provide alternatives to mitigate future flooding, a process we expect will take at least twelve months. With the risk of future flood events and no insurance coverage for this type of disaster, we must implement mitigation measures that will provide protection for the long-term. If more funding is committed now, for the short- and medium-term recovery and mitigation effort, business and industry, and ultimately the broader local community, will be spared from this level of heartache and loss over the long-term”