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Heavy rain poses new threat to Australia sugarcane

Written by: Staff
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SYDNEY, Mar 22 (Reuters) Heavy rain and possible flooding posed extra threats to sugarcane which had already been flattened by Cyclone Larry, growers warned today.

Rainfall at the rate of 200 millimetres a day has pelted the Innisfail sugarcane and banana district since the cyclone battered the town and destroyed crops on Monday.

''The threat of impending downpours delays closer inspection and assessment of damage,'' Ian Ballantyne, general manager of industry body Canegrowers, said in a statement.

''If the vast expanses of cane flattened by strong winds spends any considerable time under floodwaters, it will die. Sugarcane broken off or snapped during the storm is also unlikely to return to productivity this season,'' he said.

Canegrowers has estimated that the cyclone could cut Australia's national raw sugar production this season by 500,000 tonnes, or 10 per cent, at a cost of A0 million.

The cyclone has flattened about 10 million tonnes of sugarcane around Innisfail, in the heart of Australia's cane belt. This would normally produce well over 1 million tonnes of sugar, up to 25 per cent of Australia's annual production.

First estimates were that the cyclone would cause losses of 40 to 50 percent of productive sugarcane potential in the region, but heavy rain has been stopping growers from getting into the fields to make more accurate damage assessments.

Sugarcane is more resilient than banana trees, which have also been damaged. Cane may survive after being flattened, provided it is not broken.

''It will be weeks before people will start to gain a better understanding as to the extent of damage and how long it will take to rebuild and recover from this disaster,'' Ballantyne said.

Growers have been hit by the cyclone at a time when rising world sugar prices had been expected to increase returns this season to A0 a tonne from A0 two years ago.

Australia's biggest sugar miller, CSR Ltd. said it had not been affected by the cyclone as its operations lie further south. CSR's share price has been bolstered by rising sugar futures in the United States, which have been reacting to the Australian crop damage.

REUTERS PR PM1215

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