Today I visited the Biocane Mill at Bli Bli on Queensland's Sunshine Coast and announced the reinstatement of a $1 million funding grant to help complete the construction of a factory at the site.
The company, Biocane Ltd, will use the factory to manufacture stock feed from sugar cane using technology pioneered in Australia that produces a dry sweet fodder, known as 'Cow Candy', which is exported to cattle feedlots in East Asia.
The funding had previously been jeopardised because of a disagreement about the way the grant was being used, but after strong representations from local stakeholders including Councillor Debbie Blumel and the company, Minister for Agriculture Tony Burke agreed to review it.
The Minister took an active interest investigating this issue because he understands how important it is to support local businesses and has now reinstated the funding.
Biocane Ltd has advised that it will employ 32 people at the Bli Bli plant to complete the construction and upon completion about 18 permanent jobs will be created initially at the mill, as well as flow-on employment for sugar cane farmers and their employees.
Having grown up at Nambour I know first hand how important this funding will be to the sugar cane industry and the economy of the Sunshine Coast region.
The Rudd Government is taking decisive action to help strengthen and protect the national economy and regional economies in the midst of the global financial crisis
Supporting this type of project shows we are strongly committed to assisting local businesses and families deal with the impacts of the worst the international economic downturn can throw at us.
The Biocane project will help demonstrate that innovation in production and products other than raw sugar can generate a profitable and sustainable business enterprise.
Sunshine Coast Councillor Debbie Blumel welcomed the Treasurer's announcement and said that the Rudd Government's decision meant the Sunshine Coast Council could now process its final grant to Biocane of $125,000 out of a total of $500,000.
"The Sunshine Coast Council is eager to ensure that our valuable agricultural lands are preserved for food production purposes," Ms Blumel said.
"Biocane will provide a viable and profitable alternative use for the regional sugar cane crop following the closure of the Moreton Sugar Mill in 2003."
"If 600,000 tonnes of Cow Candy is exported each year, that could amount to around $90 million each year – a terrific boost for the Sunshine Coast regional economy," she said.
"Sugar cane is one of the few crops of commercial significance that can be farmed on the 9,000 hectare Maroochy River floodplain and the Cow Candy market is ready to surge."
Biocane Chairman Scott Grimley said the funds would be immediately invested in the completion of the factory by late March 2009 and the grant also meant funds could now be released to fund a rapid increase in cane production.
"This is welcome news for the many growers who have been patient with the delays the project has suffered, because demand for Cow Candy is very strong and must be met as quickly as possible.
"As all of our production is for the export market, this funding from the Rudd Government will bring forward additional export revenues."
"I am very grateful to Treasurer Wayne Swan and Councillor Debbie Blumel who have worked together to make the grant a reality."
BLI BLI (SUNSHINE COAST, QUEENSLAND)
5 January 2009