Trouble at Mill

mill wars sugar

This article was published in the Daily Mercury yesterday. Here’s a link to it online. And here’s a second article about the “trouble at mill” published on the same day.

I have to admit, for me, trying to get my head around those articles is a bit like how my 5 year old daughter Albie experienced my explanation of the game of cricket in the backyard yesterday:

“You see, here’s the wicket.”
“What’s the wicket, Dad?”
“It’s got three stumps and bails on top.”
“What are the bails for, Dad?”
“If the bails fall off, you’re out.”
“What’s ‘out’, Dad?”
“It’s when you’re not batting anymore.”
“What’s ‘batting’, Dad?”
etc etc

It’s like, to understand those newspaper articles you need to have a whole lot of existing knowledge about the game of sugar milling and distribution.

Here are the things I (think I) understand so far:

Mackay Sugar, and Wilmar, are the names of two milling companies.

Mackay Sugar runs four mills. Three are located around Mackay: Racecourse, Marian, Farleigh, and one – Mossman – is further north near Port Douglas.

Wilmar has eight mills, which are mapped on this page.

Mackay Sugar started as a co-op, but is now a public company. It’s Australian owned. Wilmar is an international company based in Singapore.

There is some anxiety in the air in the Australian sugar cane industry that Wilmar is going to take over the whole milling business sooner or later. This seems to be compounded by the idea that the mills owned by Mackay Sugar are old and have regular breakdowns (this article is from 2014 but seems typical of the sorts of muttering I hear from farmers around Mackay).

The articles published yesterday have to do with a board which makes decisions about sugar distribution after the milling process is complete. Up til now, Mackay Sugar and Wilmar have had one seat each on this board, but now Wilmar is pitching to have 2 seats, and that could be tipping the balance away from healthy competition. I am aware that this is a very simplistic interpretation of these news items. But rather than trying to split my head open, I’m going to leave it there for the moment, and trust that sooner or later I’ll be able to bore you to tears with an accurate anatomy of the whole game.

I want to make a diagram which maps out the various roles in the sugar cane industry, if only so I can cross-check my understanding of it all with the various players. I’ll update when I’ve got a draft…