CHALLENGES AHEAD: Canegrowers director Allan Dingle lists the challenges for a biofuels industry.
CHALLENGES AHEAD: Canegrowers director Allan Dingle lists the challenges for a biofuels industry. Eliza Goetze

Contradictions in biofuel business

THE Queensland Government advocates a biofuel industry, despite enforcing contradicting policies that would weaken it.

Bundaberg sugarcane grower Allan Dingle said that a biofuels industry faced challenges in Queensland because there were at least five obstacles including proposed reef management legislation, and water and electricity costs.

Mr Dingle said he could not understand the push for a ethanol factory in Gladstone given its distance from sugar mills, if the cane industry was going to be a feedstock supplier.

"Where is the closest cane grown in Gladstone, why would you do the development there? Why not Mackay, Bundaberg or the Burdekin?

"It just makes no sense to me. I can see a refinery there but you've got to manufacture it first."

A recent Sugar Research Australia report recognised the policy contradictions of biofuels with reef management and land clearing laws.

The report explored the future viability and diversification of canegrowing, and noted that sugarcane is no longer seen as the best use of prime agricultural land near Bundaberg and Maryborough.

It listed land competition as an issue as to why sugarcane was "increasingly proving" not to be the best use of agricultural land in the area, although it was appearing to be better used in areas further north.

"Loss of land under cane is potentially the biggest threat to mill viability," the report said.

It also mentioned the challenges to the industry including sweetener alternatives, slow technological advancement compared to overseas growers, and costs.

Mr Dingle said some growers were selling cane farms or diversifying to macadamia plantations in Bundaberg and Isis, with it increasingly becoming the case in Maryborough.

"It's an economically driven process...all of agriculture is commodity drive," he said.

"The industry is capped by outside influences and those influences are the commodities of other crops, and government green and red tape.

"If people paid the true price...of the food that they eat in the world or in Australia everyone would be in a lot better place, but they don't want to.

"They want to pay nothing for it but they want the best quality and they expect the agriculture sector to supply that at the cheapest possible price, and if there's not a dollar in it there's not a dollar in it.

"Farming once used to be a lifestyle, a way of life, and to a certain extent a business.

"Now agriculture is a business wholey and solely and so if you can't make a dollar out of it then you don't do it."