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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Family history | The Farm | The River | David, Jenny and the Farm | Self-sufficiency and Aquarius | Cattle and floods | The landscape | Other on-farm agriculture | Buying and selling land | Poor economic times | Family partnership on the farm | Mill politics, harvesters and cane cutters | Changing methods | Chemicals | Market impacts and government subsidies | Generational change and succession | Impact on cane growing | Environmental issues | Politics of cane and the mill | Neighbours

Impact on cane growing

It would be likely then it would go out of cane if it’s going to be a hundred acres.

David: which to me is a problem, for the, you know, the sugar industry because it’s a lot of cane land going out of cane.

Jenny: mmm, well look at the land that’s been sold and bought around this area in the last few years. It’s still under cane.

David: It’s going ….there’s a few places you can see Macas growing.

Jenny: Where? Oh well that’s still agriculture though.

David: It doesn’t supply anything to the sugar mill though and people like McGearys up here are tossing up whether they’ll have cane or sugar or soy beans – not worry about the cane.

So that will impact on the viability of the Broadwater Mill?

David: The sugar mill needs a good input to make it ….

Jenny: …and people are experimenting with rice too.

David: But rice is more like an in-between crop. It’s not like a thing that’s going to take over from cane.

There’s those poor old Macas down on the corner of the river as you’re coming, heading to Lismore.

Jenny: Yeah, yeah they don’t look very good I don’t think that’s going to be a very big hit with everybody.

David: there’s some… you see them at Teven and Newrybar on what was cane land. And also there’s …well there’s people that between Broadwater and Wardell are just, aren’t growing anymore because they can’t be bothered going to cane fires. They were quite happy while the cogeneration plant looked like it was going to take the cane fires out, but up in there they haven’t planted any.

Because cane fires are quite stressful?

David: well they’re just annoying.

Jenny: oh there’s a lot of organisation to go into them, and you’re tied down, it’s a big tie because not only do you have to go to your own cane fire – you need help. So all the farmers in the area help each other and so you’ve got to go to everybody’s cane fire and it’s an obligation, you can’t just not go. So you can’t just go to the pub or go on holiday or go to Sydney for the weekend, you’ve got to take it into consideration. And it’s hard to know when the cane fire’s going to be exactly, because things get held up.

David: some people just think it’s just too hard.

Did I get a bit of a sense of loyalty to … to the cane industry?

David: yeah I think it depends on everybody. It’s not just individuals and if a few individuals pull out it’s going to be very difficult for who’s left.

So part of your decision-making is really to see whether or not there’s the possibility of being able to sell your place on as a cane farm?

David: it would be a consideration but probably not a major one.

Jenny: it would depend on the money. Although, if you’ve got enough money why do you want any more? We’ve always struggled by with just enough and had a nice, a very nice life here. In fact I’ve heard people say who’ve been in cane farming and know cane farming that if you’ve got to do any farming at all, do cane farming, it’s a really lovely lifestyle. You virtually have six months of the year off and your pay keeps coming in because your pay gets divided up on a monthly, even basis, and you can, if you’re not home doing any maintenance, which there’s not a lot of maintenance on a plain, straight out cane farm, you don’t have fences and cattle and dams and all those sort of things so you’re …. You know, you have a very nice life, and now it’s getting more mechanised it’s a lot easier than it used to be. You haven’t got to sit out in the hot sun all the time – you’re in your air conditioned cab.

David: and apart from frost and a major flood, cane’s really tough. It’ll put up with lots of bad things going for it like droughts and it might just lower the yield but it doesn’t very often kill it.

Jenny: well I came from the west of NSW and was used to wheat mainly as a crop and when I first came here it rained and rained and rained like forty days and forty nights and I was devastated and I thought oh… we’d all be ruined! But no. The cane just kept growing nicely and big floods went over it, it just kept growing. It took me years to get my head around that. I mean we have lost a bit of plant cane on occasions but then the government paid us for it.

David: there were a couple of years like the ’54 flood and the ’74 flood cane died and you know, a lot of cane died, but other than that not much, just here and there where there are really low spots.

Would people want to keep cane farming then, people just don’t want to farm?

Jenny: well it’s an attractive lifestyle; maybe it’s not promoted as such.

David: and the kids, young people go away and get a bit of education or a trade or something and they think they can make more money, they probably can, and easier too.

Jenny: I don’t know that it’d be that much easier.

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