UNHAPPY cane growers have turned up in big numbers to a series of regional meetings in Queensland following Wilmar International's move to bypass the national sugar marketing company and set up its own trading business.
Last month Wilmar announced it would exit the current industry-owned Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL) export marketing arrangements and set up its own commercial model tied to its global trading operation, one of the world's biggest sugar businesses.
Wilmar has capacity to crush about 50 per cent of Australia's sugar cane destined for export thanks to its 2010 takeover of Sucrogen's seven (formerly CSR) mills, plus acquisition of the Proserpine mill in 2011.
The Singaporean-based business is part owned by US farm commodity giant Archer Daniels Midland, with which it has many processing relationships.
Chief executive officer of farmer organisation Canegrowers Brendan Stewart, said Wilmar's proposal "sent chills up the spine of growers right across Queensland - not just those in Wilmar areas".
Producers were worried about what the decision would mean for the future of family cane farms in Australia.
"We are talking about a move by an enormous corporate entity, wanting to make a decision which would change the landscape of marketing dramatically, immediately and forever," he said.
QSL's national export operation is jointly owned by farmers and cane processors, providing what farmers believe is the most transparent means of marketing their sugar crop via an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission-approved export desk.
Sugar produced by the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative is generally not sold for export and represents less than 10 per cent of national production.
Mr Stewart said while a lot of information had been published since the announcement, some of the messages and claims were not as clear as they appeared to be on the surface.
"Growers are worried the proposed action would take away growers choice to market through their industry-owned marketer, QSL, through which they get unrivalled transparency," he said
"On evidence to date, it is of the strong view that Wilmar's proposal is not in the long term best interests of the Australian sugar industry and particularly not for the growers on which it relies."
Meetings at held at Herbert, Proserpine and Plane Creek, and in the Burdekin Valley were organised by Canegrowers to break down Wilmar's claims, evaluate the real cost and develop an industry response.