by Peter Carruthers
SUGAR mill tours, a rum distillery, surging power costs, water security and the future of cane farming were all talking points during a tour of Wilmar's Proserpine mill today.
After prodding from the member for Whitsunday, Jason Costigan, site manager Danny Van der Berg said he was "happy” to take on the suggestion "as a table issue” that the mill opens its doors to cruise ship visitors and the general public.
Since the closure of the Whitsunday Gold Coffee farm in the wake of Cyclone Debbie no cruise ship passengers have visited Prosperine.
Mr Van der Berg said the company was concerned about the safety of visitors and didn't operate mill tours at any of its eight factories from Plane Creek to the Herbert River region.
"(However) it could be a gesture of good will on our part but nothing about making money,” Mr Van der Berg said.
"People who turn up in the cruise ships at Airlie Beach would love to hop on a bus and I know exactly what you are saying. Let's continue to talk about it”
"I am not saying that lightly, lets get serious about it.”
During the pre-tour meeting energy prices were flagged as a block to growth in the Queensland sugar industry and Mr Van der Berg said growers were nervous about the future.
It was suggested that bagasse (dry cane pulp) could be burnt after the crush to generate power that could then be sold back to the grower for use in irrigation systems.
Manager of Prosperine Canegrowers, Mike Porter who was not at the meeting, said this was not a new idea but the crippling cost of electricity needed to be addressed.
"You could probably run the mill for another four to six weeks generating electricity. These are things that we have to sit down with the mill as the owner of the infrastructure and talk about where we go to with it,” he said.
"If the industry is going to be sustainable into the future you can't just run these mills for five months of the year and then moth ball them.
"They have got to be able to pay for themselves and co-generation may be the way and that may relieve the high cost of electricity on producers.”
Mayor Andrew Willcox attended the tour of the Proserpine mill today and was interested to learn about the viability of a distillery from Mr Van der Berg.
"Making what? Mr Van der Berg asked.
"Rum. There is two things I am interested in. The tourism product and the distillery and gift shop at the end of it,” Cr Willcox said.
Mr Van der Berg shut the door on the idea by reminding the gathering, "it's just not our core business and we won't make enough volume to make it worthwhile,” he said.
"We ran the numbers and it's too much trouble. I am very much a believer in focusing on your core business and do what you do best.”