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Growing Sugarcane in Tully and Mareeba

Our farming, your fruit

Our Sugarcane

Flegler Group has over 1,000 hectares of sugarcane in rotation

Sugarcane is a tall plant, similar to bamboo, that grows well in tropical conditions. It produces juice in its stalk that is harvested and converted into “raw” sugar. This sugar is further refined into white sugar or used as an ingredient in many food products.

Sugarcane fibre is valuable and used to make bioethanol fuel. By-products from the refinement process are also used to make pharmaceutical products, paper, clothing, plastics, fertiliser, and rum. The plant’s versatility makes it one of the most profitable crops in the world.

What is

With its demand expected to rise in the coming years, sugarcane is an important industry in Australia. The versatile crop landed on Australian shores in 1788 and has now become a thriving enterprise with sugar and other products being exported to many countries. Take time to learn more about sugarcane to understand its impact around the world.


Growers on the coastline




of Australian sugarcane is produced in QLD

How do you
Grow Sugarcane?

Like any plant, sugarcane requires certain conditions to be met to yield a quality crop. We have to ensure a fertile environment, use specialised equipment, and transport the harvest promptly to appropriate facilities to prevent loss.

Sugarcane is best planted in wet seasons, the period from March to May in Australia. If the weather conditions are ideal, it will grow in nine to twelve months. However, it can take 18 to 24 months in cooler regions, hence Tully’s tropical climate is ideal. Harvesting usually takes place between June and December.

Where is Sugarcane

To date, we are one of an estimated 4,000 businesses that grow sugarcane along the Australian coastline. This coastline stretches for 2,100 kilometres and lies between Mossman in the far north of Queensland and Grafton, the northern part of New South Wales.  However, Flegler Group mainly grows sugar in Tully

The majority of sugarcane farmers reside near the Great Barrier Reef and take advantage of rainforests close by. And every year, tonnes of “raw” sugar is processed at 24 mills before being transported by rail or road for further refinement.

a Variety

As the third-largest exporter of “raw” sugar, Australia boasts over 250 varieties of sugarcane. Each variety has its strengths and weaknesses. For instance, while some tend to yield more harvest, others are more resistant to disease.

One of the most popular varieties of sugarcane is the WSRA17, a crossbreed of Q208A and TellusA. Although this commercial variety showed sensitivity to sugarcane smut, it is resistant to other diseases and produced a better harvest than standard varieties such as Q183A and KQ228A.

It is good practice to plant more than one variety of sugarcane. This is to prevent loss if a variety is susceptible to certain pests and diseases.

Sugar Research Australia (SRA) provides farmers with helpful guides to sugarcane varieties.  Your choice is not only determined by the crop’s qualities but also by how compatible the variety is with the soil and other environmental conditions in your region. Please visit the SRA website for guides on sugarcane varieties, farming tips, and other useful resources.

Growing Sugarcane

Sugarcane can be grown from seed. However, this is not a preferred technique among farmers in Australia. Flegler Group uses cloning — taking a healthy part of a mature sugarcane stalk and replanting it. Replanted stalks are called “setts” and are about 40 centimetres long.

These stalks have buds from where shoots grow. Setts should then be dropped into furrows on arable land, covered in nutrient-rich soil and watered. In two to four weeks, you can expect shoots to break through the soil.

Each sett can produce an average of 12 stalks, depending on the variety. Once ripe, the plants should grow to 2 to 4 metres in height. With a typical cropping cycle, there should be one crop grown from seedlings (plant crop) as well as three or four stubble crops or ratoons.



The Soil

Sugarcane can grow in many types of soils. However, the SRA advises not to till the land aggressively for planting. In fact, too much tillage can erode organic matter in the soil and prevent seeds and setts from settling in the soil and germinating.

Temperature is key

Farmers are advised not to plant if the temperature of the soil is below 18 degrees Celsius. Higher soil temperature is preferable and can prevent damage to sugarcane from insects and disease.

Soil Testing

Soil also needs to be tested for nutrients prior to planting. Sugarcane needs ample amounts of magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and sulphur. The crop also requires nitrogen. Farmers should be careful to feed the soil with all the necessary nutrients, as well as those needed in smaller amounts like copper, iron, manganese, and zinc.

Consider Conditions

Once dropped into furrows, setts can be covered with 40 to 65 millimetres of soil, which is standard. However, farmers should first consider their type of soil and conditions in their area. Press wheels can be used to firm the soil after planting but only at sites where setts are planted. Pressing soil in too much area can give weeds opportunity to germinate.


Farmers should discuss the type and rate of fertiliser to use with an advisor before planting. Generally, if there is little or no tillage on the land, planting fertiliser should be placed with setts in the same soil plot. Otherwise, it should be placed next to the stalks on the side of the furrow. There should be no contact between them.

Another important factor to consider when choosing fertiliser is the salt index. Fertilisers with a high salt index can be toxic and burn the shoots. Low salt plant fertilisers, on the other hand, may facilitate germination in minimally tilled land.

Pest and
Disease Control

Insecticides can be used during planting if an area has pests such as wireworms that can damage the crop. Fungicides are useful in preventing soil-borne diseases but should be used according to instructions on the label.


Sugarcane can be watered by rainfall, via an irrigation system or both. The estimated amount of water required per hectare is between 2,000 and 3,000 millimetres per annum. This will, of course, vary according to the soil type.

If using an irrigation system, farmers should keep in mind that finer soil needs more frequent irrigation than a coarse, textured soil. Young shoots should be prioritised and given plenty of water during the 45 days of the germination period.

How is Sugarcane

A cane harvester is used to harvest sugarcane. First, the tops are removed, and the stalks of the sugarcane are cut at ground level. Harvested cane stalks are then cut into pieces called billets about 30 centimetres long.

A haulout machine is driven along the cane harvester to gather the billets, some of which are replanted to produce more crops. Sugarcane is then transported to mills for processing to make “raw” sugar.

What Equipment
is Needed?

A sugarcane planter operated by a tractor is essential equipment for farmers. Other required machinery includes a sett cutter, detrasher for leaves, sugarcane crusher to extract juice, intercultivator for removing weeds between rows, a ridger, stubble shaver, ratoon manager for harrowing, weeder, rotavator, sugarcane harvester and bud chipper.

With continuing advances in farming technology, it is easier to find one piece of equipment that performs multiple functions. Therefore, you might not need all of the above-mentioned machinery but a combination of just a few that covers all the tasks.

What is
Raw Sugar?

It is important to note that the term “raw” sugar in this context does not refer to the brown or white refined varieties consumed at home. These are just some of the final products of a refinement process.

As soon as sugarcane is harvested, it is taken to the mill within 16 hours. Once there, it is weighed, and its particulars recorded. The billets are then sent to be chopped, shredded, and crushed to separate the juice from the fibre.

The juice is carried away to process into “raw” sugar while the fibre or bagasse is preserved to either be turned into ethanol products or to power the mill’s furnaces.

Juice from sugarcane is boiled down to a syrup and crystals are introduced. When the mixture has crystalized, the crystals are separated from molasses and tumble-dried. These are then stored in units and transported to nearby ports.

The Refining

From the port, raw sugar is delivered to refineries. The sugar crystals first need to be washed before they are dissolved in hot water. Impurities are then removed by adding carbon dioxide and lime. Next, the melted sugar is filtered by cloth for further refinement, boiled and combined with more sugar crystals.

When crystallized, the sugar is dried to remove any excess moisture. This dried sugar is either packaged to be sold to consumers or used as an ingredient in syrups, molasses or treacle, liquid products, and more.

Australia exports to countries that include Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The list is not exhaustive and could include more countries in future. Some white sugar is produced by local refineries. However, most of the raw sugar is sold to be processed in refineries overseas.

How Much Sugar
can Australian Sugarcane Producers Make?



About 10 to 15 percent of the weight of sugarcane can be converted into sugar.

The Yield

One tonne of sugarcane can yield 100 to 150 kilograms of sugar

Land Required

On average, one acre of land produces 1.5 tonnes of sugarcane.

The Largest Suppliers

The largest sugar suppliers in Australia are those in Queensland, producing an estimated 95% according to the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment.

Largest Sugar Mills

The biggest sugar mills, which also operate as factories, include the Victoria Mill and the Invicta Mill.

Huge Output

It is estimated that these mills produce an average of 191,000 tonnes of raw sugar a year. There are about 24 mills along the coastline and 80% of raw sugar made at these facilities — approximately 4 million tonnes — is exported to other countries.

Is there a Rising Demand
for Sugarcane?

The demand for sugar is rising globally, which makes sugarcane farming a viable business. In addition to sugar, there is an increasing need for bioethanol products that can be made from the same crop. Although statistics show an upward trend, more farmers are required to implement methods in line with climate change policies to improve sustainability.

Sugarcane is a flourishing industry in Australia, and the demand for its products is expected to grow. For those interested in farming, it is essential to ensure that the crop is planted in quality soil, receives adequate water, and is protected from disease. A well-grown variety can produce anything from raw sugar to fuel.