HOME: Elizabeth and Jim Sneesby look out on their cane farm and the Broadwater Mill in the distance.
HOME: Elizabeth and Jim Sneesby look out on their cane farm and the Broadwater Mill in the distance. Yvonne Gardiner

Sweeter season gives cane farmers reason to celebrate

JIM Sneesby grew up surrounded by canefields on his family property at Broadwater in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales.

Through good and bad years in the sugar industry, he's never lost his love for cane farming.

He says the lifestyle and the friendly people in the industry make it all worthwhile.

"You don't do it for the money," he said.

"You do it because you love it."

Jim and his wife Elizabeth own the property Dewriver, which has 200 hectares under cane.

They met in north Queensland when Jim was working for CSR (Colonial Sugar Refining Company).

"My father Bill got crook so I came home in 1970," he said.

Many cane farmers have left the industry since that time.

"We've all got bigger," Jim says.

Mechanical harvesting has overtaken manual work, and cane is now transported by road rather than river.

This year, cane farmers are celebrating.

"It's been a beaut season, we've had good yields, reasonable weather and good returns," Jim said. "It's all come together at once.

"The prices that we're paying our growers for cane are good."

Dewriver produced 12,000 tonnes this year, a bit above average.

Profits are up between 20% and 25% on last year for cane farmers, a combination of improved global sugar prices and cheaper input costs.

The sugar industry has been a part of life in northern New South Wales for more than 100 years.

New South Wales Sugar Milling Co-operative was formed in 1978 to process members' cane and to maximise returns to the 600 cane farmers of NSW for their product.

Jim was chairman from 1997 to 2002 and remains a board member.

He's also on the board of Manildra Harwood Sugars (brand name Sunshine Sugar).

Sunshine Sugar is the only 100% Australian-owned sustainable certified sugar manufacturer.

- The most northern of the three NSW mills is Condong Mill, just north of Murwillumbah on the Tweed River.

- Broadwater Mill, on the Richmond River, is about 20 minutes' drive south from Ballina.

- Harwood Mill is further south on the Clarence River.

- The NSW 2016 crushing season has now finished. The mills will start up again towards the end of May or early June 2017.

- Jim is optimistic about the sugar industry next year.

"With the rain we've just had, we're guaranteed a good crop next year," he said.

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