Sugar Processing: Harvesting

Harvest

Sugar cane grows for 12 to 16 months before being harvested between June and December each year. When harvested, the cane stands two to four metres high. Queensland's sugar cane is harvested by self-propelled harvesting machines. Some growers contract machine owners to harvest their crop, while others own their machines or share ownership with other growers.

There are two methods used to harvest cane. In some cane-growing areas it is possible to harvest the cane green. The left over cuttings form a mulch which keeps in moisture, stops the growth of weeds and helps prevent soil erosion. In other areas, the sugar cane is burnt to remove leaves, weeds and other matter which can make harvesting and milling operations difficult.

Billets

In both processes the harvester moves along the rows of sugar cane removing the leafy tops of the cane stalks, cutting the stalks off at ground level and chopping the cane into small lengths called 'billets'. These are loaded into a haul-vehicle travelling alongside the harvester. The cane is then taken to a tramway siding or road haulage delivery point for transport to the mill.

After harvesting, the stubble left behind grows new shoots, producing a "ratoon" crop. Two or three ratoon crops can be grown before the land is rested (or planted with an alternative crop such as legumes), ploughed and replanted for the cycle to start again.