Visiting a sugar cane farm in Northern Queensland

Visiting a sugar cane farm in Northern Queensland

VISITING A SUGAR CANE FARM IN NORTHERN QUEENSLAND

One of the reasons (a very big reason) I love to travel is that I am nosey – I want to know things – about people and places. And what I especially want to know is how people’s lives are different around the world – what their world is about.  So when my friend and work colleague Denise asked if I would like to go on a trip with them visiting a sugar cane farm and – even better – her brother’s sugar cane farm I said a very enthusiastic “YES PLEASE!”

Have you ever wondered where that sugar you put in your cup of tea or sprinkle on your cereal comes from? Well thanks to Denise and the hospitality of her brother Peter and family I was very lucky to have the amazing experience of visiting a sugar cane farm in Northern Queensland to find out a bit more about where our sugar originates from.

visiting a sugar cane farm

Peter very kindly took us around his farm to tell us a bit about the processes involved in growing sugar cane and answered my many questions.


Why is northern Queensland particularly suited to growing sugar cane?


Sugar cane thrives in a tropical environment, but can adapt to a temperate climate also.

In Northern Queensland you will see miles and miles of sugar cane


Does sugar cane grow in other places in Australia as well as Queensland?


Northern New South Wales has a sugar industry.  The Ord River area in Western Australia also had a sugar industry for a period of time.


When do you plant the cane and is it from seed? Do you plant different varieties?


In Central Queensland there are two windows – April/May and mid-July to the end of September, when soil temperature is right for germination.  Cane is planted from whole stalks cut into pieces approx.. 300mm long.  Sugar cane stalks have growth notches up the stick.  Each notch has a bud or eye from which new growth comes from.

We grow several different varieties on our farm.  Different varieties are grown for disease resistance, to suit different soil types and to mature at different times of the season.


How do you prepare the soil for the cane and how do you fertilise it as it grows?


These days we zonal work the ground to a good tilt where the cane is to be planted.  A small amount of fertilizer is applied at planting and the rest is applied when the crop has emerged and is actively growing.  We use recycled nutrients from the cane process plus commercial fertilizers. The crop has to be fertilized each year.  We apply liquid fertilizer using trucks, applying 7 cane rows at a time.

Cane framing in northern queensland 


What sort of animals do you find living in the cane?


Over 25 different bird species can be found on our farm over a season.  They use the cane as shelter and to hide.  Rats, mice and snakes are often found in the cane.  Wallabies, kangaroos, goannas, lizards, bandicoots, echidnas, possums and dingoes often find their way into and out of the cane paddocks. bird on a branch


How long does it take to grow ready for cutting?


The optimum time is 12 months, but this can vary based on the seasonal conditions.

 My husband going out in the dunder truck!


On average how much cane can you cut in a day?


This varies on the harvesting group size.  Our group harvests 600 tonnes per day when the season is on, harvesting from mid-June to mid-November – usually weather dependent.

We are an average sized group in our area.


Once you have cut the cane where does it go?


The cane is put into bins on a tramline system to go to a nearby sugar mill.  There, it is processed to extract the juice.  This juice is boiled and crystallized to make raw sugar. On average it takes 7 tonnes of cane to make 1 tonne of raw sugar.  The waste cane fibre (bagasse) is used to fire the mill boilers to make steam.  Mill mud is the waste cleaned out of the juice extraction.  Molasses is made when the juice is crystallized .  Molasses then goes to the Distillery to make Ethanol.  The by-product, dunder, is the liquid we use on our cane.  The mill mud is also used on-farm.  Molasses is also sort after for cattle feed.


Where does most of the sugar produced from your cane end up?


The raw sugar is transported to sheds at the Mackay Harbour and stored ready for export to refineries mostly in the Asia/Pacific area, where it is made into white sugar for human consumption.


Why are there signs on the road saying you can’t take cane from that area into the next area?


Each cane growing region has a quarantine zone to stop the spread of disease from one region to another.

Peter in his van


Cane farmer have been criticised for the impact on the environment of cane. How do you minimise the impact on the environment of your farm?


Our current farm has been developed by the 3 generations, starting in the late 1960’s to what we have today.  It is a works in progress.  Every generation has worked to make it better for the next.

As a rule, each block is only worked and planted each 6 years. After the plant crop is harvested it regrows again.  We call this ratooning.  As long as no problems occur, such as disease, cane grubs or harvested in very wet conditions, the block can be ratooned year after year for 5 years – sometimes longer.  All that time the trash cover will be maintained and the ground not worked or disturbed.  This has limited soil movement immensely. We work our ground only as needed, to plant a crop.  Our cane is harvested green with the trash retained to conserve moisture, limit soil movement and suppress weeds to limit our chemical usage.  Some of our run-off water is captured and used for irrigation.  We have used recycled nutrients for over 30 years.

beautiful cane farm

How have developments in technology helped cane farming? (Thinking of all those blokes cutting by hand years ago)


I am a third generation grower.  Denise’s and my Dad is the second generation.  He is still actively involved in the farm.  He has seen and been a part of all the changes.

Peter and family

Peter with his father, mother, daughter and grandaughter

He started as a teenager working behind a horse, then to small no-cab tractors, to bigger tractors, to tractors with cabins, to tractors with air conditioning, to air conditioned, automatic and GPS guided tractors.

He has cut and loaded cane by hand through to seeing the first chopper harvesters to the big machines and transporters we have today.

I don’t believe any other generation will see or be part of the change he has been through.

The industry is always changing.  The world is changing.


A huge thanks to Peter and family and of course Denise for organising our day and our fantastic experience visiting a sugar cane farm – we had a fantastic time and it was so interesting to learn all about the sugar cane.

PIN FOR LATER – VISITING A SUGAR CANE FARM IN NORTHERN QUEENSLAND

CANE FARM


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64 Comments

  1. January 14, 2018 / 1:04 pm

    Wow! That is really cool and interesting. It’s such an accomplishment when generations are able to continue a family farm. #WeekendWanderlust

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 15, 2018 / 12:47 am

      Definitely – and a lovely family too.

  2. January 14, 2018 / 1:32 pm

    Very interesting – I knew none of this before. I guess I like travel because I’m nosy , too. And curious. There’s so much to learn about.

  3. January 14, 2018 / 3:26 pm

    I can totally relate to your reasons for travelling – want to know things about people and places… that’s what it is mostly for me.
    And if I haven’t been to new places yet, then I try to find by reading blogs and get the recommendations and insights from people who have been there.
    It’s very interesting to see that Queensland has such a sugar industry. It must have been a great experience to see that and find out so many interesting things. Since 3 generations is already quite a while and its good to see that every new generation tries to make things better for the next one. This is how it should be.

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 15, 2018 / 12:46 am

      It was super interesting – thanks for reading and commenting on the post and glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  4. January 14, 2018 / 6:04 pm

    I have never been to a sugar cane farm before, looks super intriguing! I will have to add it to my bucket list one day! Thanks for the beautiful post!

  5. Iulia
    January 14, 2018 / 7:56 pm

    At first, I did not realise what the post is about ?? I somehow thought of candy canes ?? but it turned out to be a great post, very interesting, well written and well documented. You were, indeed, lucky to visit this farm. I imagine it was really interesting to see.

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 15, 2018 / 12:45 am

      It was thank you! Yes sugar comes from cane 😉

  6. Abigail Sinsona
    January 15, 2018 / 1:54 am

    I haven’t been to a sugar cane farm in years (last time was when I was a little kid). This post brought back good memories and something I’d want to try if I ever go to Northern Queensland. Like you, I do like to travel to learn. I think traveling is such a great teacher and I’ve learned so much about Northern Queensland from this post than I ever did before.

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 15, 2018 / 2:14 am

      Brilliant thank-you so nice to hear what you thought of the post 🙂

  7. Abhinav Singh
    January 15, 2018 / 8:13 am

    That’s an insightful blog. I have so many sugarcane farms near my home in India. Maybe I should check them out. You learned so much on this trip. 600 tones a day is a lot! You asked some very good questions. The bit on quarantine zone was new for me.

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 15, 2018 / 9:34 am

      So pleased you enjoyed reading the post – be interesting to find out the difference with the farm near your home and the one in Australia!

  8. January 15, 2018 / 8:31 am

    That’s a fascinating description of sugar cane and how it is farmed. I have seen the cane fields in Queensland and always wondered a bit about the industry. Hubby says he remembers chewing on sugar cane talks when he was young.
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    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 15, 2018 / 9:33 am

      Thanks Rhonda so pleased you enjoyed reading the post – we loved finding out more about all that sugar cane we kept driving past! We chewed on some sugar cane too!

  9. January 15, 2018 / 11:03 am

    Very interesting and lot of information here about sugarcane farming! I’ve been to a sugarcane farm in one of India’s farming villages but I was very young at the time and never bothered to learn about how sugar cane was converted into sugar and what the process was, etc. I only chewed on the sweet sugarcane and had the juice extracted by one of the farmers. I love visiting farms!

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 18, 2018 / 9:39 am

      Glad you found out a bit more about the farming process in the post 🙂

  10. January 15, 2018 / 12:15 pm

    Such an educational post on Sugar canes, Although I’ve eaten from raw cane before in SE.Asia, I haven’t been to a sugar cane farm before, So nice of Peter to take you around and give you such an insight into his farm. I love how he says even though it’s in it’s 3rd generation it’ still a work in progress and happy that he’s taking the impact on the environment in account. This was a really good read
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    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 18, 2018 / 9:39 am

      Thank you Amit glad you enjoyed it!

  11. January 15, 2018 / 1:53 pm

    Oh my goodness Tracy it looks like you’re having a fantastic time in Australia! That farm looks like an awesome experience, I will definitely have to check it out! It is great hearing about the farmer too!

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 18, 2018 / 9:38 am

      Thanks Katie – we were so lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the farm.

  12. January 15, 2018 / 2:38 pm

    Your motives to travel resonate with me, travel is truly about connection. Love reading your post, took me down the memory lane. Interesting and informative, thanks for sharing.

  13. Joanna
    January 15, 2018 / 5:18 pm

    I have seen so many sugar cane plantations during my trips, especially around central America, but I never knew anything about the process from the seed to the refined product we put in our coffee. It was very interesting to read and I bet it was much more interesting to actually be there and get all the information from an actual farmer. It’s amazing that it takes about 12 months from the seed to when the plant is ready to be cut.

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 18, 2018 / 9:37 am

      Thanks for your comment so glad you enjoyed it

  14. January 16, 2018 / 10:27 am

    Hooray, this is super cool! I’ve only had sugar cane juice for the first time a couple of months ago, I didn’t even know it before. In India. It was a revelation, really. Supercool to learn more about where it comes from, I like getting all my whats and hows and whys answered as well 🙂 … and holymoly, 600t in a day is average?!

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 18, 2018 / 9:37 am

      Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  15. January 17, 2018 / 2:31 am

    This was a particularly interesting read for me because my grandfather worked on a sugar-cane farm for much of his life. That was on Kauai, back when Kauai was still a big producer of sugar cane. I remember being a kid on the island and seeing many fields like the ones in your pictures, which, in the meantime have all been replaced by other crops, such as coffee. I hadn’t ever thought much about the growing and production side, so I felt that your discussion with Peter gave me an insight not only into sugar-cane farming in Northern Queensland and how it has changed over the generations, but also into the sorts of things my grandpa must have had to contend with at work. By the way, did you try tasting the raw sugar cane? I remember my grandpa brining a small stalk home for us to try when I was a kid, and I didn’t like it very much! Haha. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 18, 2018 / 9:35 am

      Thats great Stefanie I am so glad you enjoyed the post and that it brought memories back for you! Really appreciate your comment and I will share with Peter and family too! I did try a little but of the cane and found it sweet but not something I would try too often!

  16. Samah
    January 17, 2018 / 8:45 pm

    This is so informative! I’m a huge fan of sugarcane juice but I never really knew the process. I would love to visit a sugar cane farm, hopefully I can when I visit Queensland.

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 18, 2018 / 9:30 am

      I am sure you will enjoy it when you do!

  17. Linda Tallett
    January 17, 2018 / 9:52 pm

    Wow so interesting to read how we get our sugar!! Looks like a really good day you had there with lots of great information from your friends.

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 18, 2018 / 9:29 am

      It was a great day out and we loved learning all about where sugar comes from and just was is involved in growing the cane!

  18. January 18, 2018 / 10:48 am

    I remember visiting the cane fields in Queensland as a kid and being fascinated by the processes. They’re such an iconic part of the landscape up north. I just love driving the roads through the canefields and it reminds me of the song Cattle and Cane by the Go-Betweens. Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 20, 2018 / 12:37 am

      Thanks Katy – they so are aren’t they…cane for miles!

  19. January 19, 2018 / 6:01 am

    Super interesting! I lived in Mossman, QLD once, right next to a cane field, but I didn’t know anything about cane. One thing I did know though…. snakes live in the cane fields and often visit the houses – I learn that the scary way! It was in my bedroom draw LOL

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 20, 2018 / 12:34 am

      Yes lots of snakes Kelly! I think I would have freaked if one was in my bedroom!!!

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 20, 2018 / 12:33 am

      Thanks Shona – it was so interesting finding out about the cane!

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 20, 2018 / 12:33 am

      Thanks Sarah! I had the same thoughts driving past all that cane!

  20. January 20, 2018 / 1:17 am

    That’s awesome! I had never heard feedback from anyone who could visit a sugarfarm like you did. I live in Brisbane and every time we drive up north, we go through kilometres and kilometres of sugar cane fields. It’s really part of the landscape in QLD so I loved learning more about it. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 21, 2018 / 12:32 am

      Thanks Eloise glad you enjoyed the post!

  21. January 20, 2018 / 2:41 am

    Great article! Good see to North Quensland getting some exposure!

  22. January 20, 2018 / 7:06 am

    I love the family business! I grew up in a little neighborhood in South Florida, and I remember my dad cutting pieces of sugar cane for us to chew on. I love it 🙂
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    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 21, 2018 / 12:31 am

      Ah what a lovely memory!

  23. January 20, 2018 / 7:53 am

    I would definitely have jumped at the chance of visiting a sugar cane farm, but I seriously need to start asking more questions haha I wouldn’t have thought of half of these sonI would have missed out on so much. Lovely read, pinned. #FeetDoTravel

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 21, 2018 / 12:30 am

      Thanks Angie glad you enjoyed it! We had a lovely day!

  24. January 20, 2018 / 2:26 pm

    Very interesting to learn about the process and evolution of the industry! That is definitely not what I imagined sugar cane fields looking like! Very cool that you got to learn this! #FeetDoTravel
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    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 21, 2018 / 12:28 am

      Thanks so glad you found it interesting!

  25. January 20, 2018 / 6:06 pm

    Wow, what a fascinating day out, and so interesting to learn about the sugar we consume and where it comes from. Thank you for sharing on #farawayfiles
    Hilary recently posted…Faraway Files #61My Profile

  26. January 22, 2018 / 7:35 pm

    Such a cool place to check out – really interesting to read about sugar cane and how it’s made – definitely something I never considered before! Glad that wasn’t what I did for my farm work in Australia as, knowing my luck, I would be covered head to toe with snakes and spiders on day 1!
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  27. Thank you for sharing the evolution, process and commitment to sustainable growing practices by this family. Ironically, we have been cutting out sugar for our January “detox” but know it will creep back into my baking schedule soon! Ha! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin #FarawayFiles

    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 24, 2018 / 9:19 am

      Thanks Erin! Enjoy sugar when you have it again!!

  28. January 26, 2018 / 7:37 pm

    I’m addicted to sugar so it’s interesting to see where it all begins! During the season 600 tons per day is a huge amount! If someone asked me which countries were producers I would not have guessed Australia!
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    • TracyJane
      Author
      January 28, 2018 / 4:39 am

      It was so interesting to visit James and I learnt a lot too!

  29. February 19, 2018 / 9:53 pm

    How fascinating how sugar cane is grown and the process it goes through. New information for me and I was surprised to hear that sugar cane is grown in Australia. I bet it was exciting to interview a 2nd generation grower and hear about changes the 1st generation (fathers) have seen. Such a great article. #feetdotravel
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    • TracyJane
      Author
      February 20, 2018 / 9:09 am

      Thanks Stephanie!

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