A DEMOGRAPHICALLY diverse group of 164 sugar cane industry professionals ranging from those just beginning their careers to others starting to think about succession plans convened at Palm Cove on March 16-18 for the 2015 Case IH Step Up! Conference. The conference which was last held at the Gold Coast in 2013 was designed to allow members involved in all facets of the industry to meet in one place and share their successes, problems, and current and future projects with their peers. Next Gen officer and fourth generation cane farmer Gerard Puglisi said the Next Gen program was developed in response to a major issue within the sugar industry – the next generation of industry participants or lack thereof. “The industry has identified the need to encourage and support young farmers, harvesters, millers and researchers into a career in the sugar industry,” Mr Puglisi said. He said Next Gen also recognises the importance of ensuring that the more established farmer, harvester, miller or researcher imparts their wealth of knowledge over to the incoming generation. “Representatives are comprised of young farmers and industry professionals who are continuing the work of Next Gen in their own specific regions through regular contact and meetings. “We encourage all young farmers and cane professionals to join their local Next Gen group as a way for them to network with fellow members of the sugarcane industry as well as an outlet for them to communicate concerns and issues they may have. “Right across the board industry reps have expressed concern about the aging population of sugar cane farmers and they share a real passion for taking hold of their industry to ensure a profitable and sustainable future.” As well as providing an excellent situation for attendees to network and ‘talk shop’ with fellow industry members, the conference was also peppered with highly informative and engaging talks from a host of the industry’s most well-known identities which judging from the enthusiasm displayed by those listening in will hopefully lead to some inspired ideas being conceptualised that will help shape potential projects in the future. For an extensive photo gallery from the conference click on the image below. The highly varied subjects covered by the speakers included: 2014 National Carbon Cocky of the Year award winner Robert Quirk providing his insights into advanced farming systems, specifically management of land based carbon storage and carbon emission reduction. Nick Birchley of Rural Financial Counselling Services (RFCS) Queensland spoke on strategies that can be employed to control indebtedness. Case IH North America high horsepower tractor specialist, Ken Ohnell provided attendees with the latest information regarding tech being developed by the company. He also provided his observations about what’s in store for the future of agricultural machinery. Sugar Research Australia’s (SRA) Andrew Ward discussed the future of delivering extension and how SRA levies will be used to engage farmers in the future. Rebecca Bolt detailed the Farmer Recognition Project created by Bonsucro which is a multi-stakeholder organisation which fosters the sustainability of the sugarcane sector through a metric-based certification scheme and by supporting continuous improvement for members. DAF’s Allan Blair and Jack Robertson, described their involvement with the dual sprayer project which aims to reduce herbicide loss and the outcomes they’ve attained. Greg Shannon from Tully Sugar discussed future productivity in the Australian sugar industry, and Queensland Sugar Limited CEO Greg Beashel gave an informative talk on the future of raw sugar marketing. Matt Kealley and Malcolm Petrie from Canegrowers provided an industry update on the Smartcane BMP program and detailed the benefits of the program to the sugar industry and why farmers should get involved. DAF’s Derek Sparkes discussed the trials he’s been involved with in the Barron Delta region including the Agrocote Controlled Release trial and the Entec nitrification trial. Juanita Maiden from MacDonnells Law detailed how to best go about organising succession planning on farm, and what farmers need to know while drawing up the particulars to avoid potential problems down the road. Michael Camilleri of Maalacan Engineering detailed his involvement in the construction of farm machinery which will be primarily used by future farming generations and specifically how these machines can be utilised effectively in the sugar industry. Phil Patane (SRA) spoke on harvest management strategies and what can be done to reduce cane loss in the supply chain, and Rabobank’s Tracy Muller provided information on the how you can make your best case to obtain farm finance and how to manage credit risk. Field trips to the Cairns Sugar Terminal and Mossman’s Sweet Farm Tours also showcased the diverse potential of the industry, while 2013 Nuffeld Scholar Joe Muscat fascinated guests at the conference dinner with his in-depth discussion on fibre crops such as hemp and their potential value-adding possibilities for the local sugar industry. Based on what attendees told the North Queensland Register once Australia Cane Farmers Association chairman Don Murday officially closed the conference, the consensus is they’ll be going back to their farms flush with confidence and with some sweet ideas in-mind for the future direction of their operations.