Embracing Change in the Sugar Cane Industry
This article was originally published in the Cassowary Coast Independent News on 12 October 2017
Greg Shannon can tell you a thing or two about sugarcane (and Queensland Rugby League history, but that’s another story). With over 20 years of experience in the Queensland sugarcane industry Greg has been involved in many facets of practice change adoption within the industry.
Greg grew up on a wheat and cattle farm, and studied science before moving to North Queensland from the Darling Downs. He spent 12 years as an extension officer for the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (BSES) before moving to Tully Sugar Limited (TSL) in 2012 to become the Cane Productivity Manager.
The sugarcane industry is full of devoted individuals who are proud of the industry, its rich history and who continue to work with industry stakeholders toward a better future.
Greg exemplifies this through any number of the roles he had over the years starting with his first job in BSES in the late 1990’s working on a sugarcane nutrition project; to various farming system and fallow cropping projects through the 2000’s; and to supporting various industry groups including the young farmers groups and the Herbert Women in Sugar group.
Greg has a passion for understanding and preserving the industry’s rich history and since joining TSL has served as a director of the Australian Sugar Heritage Centre in Mourilyan. Greg was also the Queensland Representative for the Australasia-Pacific Extension Network from 2010 to 2012. He is also, at present, the only member of the Queensland Rugby League History Committee to be based outside of Brisbane.
The common thread in all of this is his pride in the State of Queensland, and the important part that the sugar industry and, in particular, agriculture has played in developing it.
As part of his current role for TSL, Greg leads the ‘Tully Variety Management Group.’ This local industry initiative involves TSL working with Tully growers to trial under local conditions the many new sugarcane varieties that are now available.
“Sugar Research Australia (SRA) does a great job breeding and releasing new varieties, providing growers with a thorough regional guide” Greg said. “However, within each region there can be a range of different soil types and rainfall patterns that affects what grows best in certain locations.
“The Tully Variety Management Group helps find the sub-district variation and build a localised picture of what will work best for each grower from both a mill productivity, and a cane quality for milling point of view.”
Greg believes that it is important that Tully Sugar works closely with growers to improve farming productivity and enhance farming systems, especially in terms of soil health as it is all linked to profitability and sustainability of the region.
“Ensuring that growers continue to grow the best crop benefits all parties involved” he said, “the industry has always embraced new technologies, in particular, new varieties and it is important to ensure that we as an industry continue to move forward together as a team.”
The local variety group now accounts for close to 40% of the sugarcane production area in Tully. Its success can, in part, be attributed to the support it has received from the board of TSL Greg believes.
“The mill management has supported these variety groups very strongly,” he said “growers, millers, planting contractors and harvesters are all actively involved with a focus on communication, cooperation and building trust between industry groups.”
In 2017 the group was able to publish a new local variety guide based on the trial work. This focus on the adoption of new technology lead the variety group to get involved in Project Cane Changer, a CANEGROWERS initiative, funded by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. Cane Changer works with growers to highlight and promote on-going change and positivity within the industry.
“In Tully, the Cane Changer Project is strongly linked to the local variety management group” he said “our work in the variety group goes well beyond general varieties to embracing new technology and industry sustainability in general.
“These goals are closely in line with Cane Changer which seeks to demonstrate this willingness to adopt and change to a wider audience, especially when it relates to the environmental issues.”
Greg hopes that the work of the local Tully variety management group and Project Cane Changer can help build recognition of the ongoing changes and evolution of the industry.
“Our variety management group does a lot more than discuss new varieties and our local trial work. It has become a community of like-minded people who want to move the industry forward and is open to all growers.”
Cane Changer is interested in sharing stories of change from around Tully. To get involved and find out more please head to canechanger.com or talk to your local CANEGROWERS office.