If there is a flood survivor on the far North Coast it is sugar cane, particularly older, ratooned crops however mortality did occur in younger plants.
Interestingly varietal types handled the extreme inundation in different ways and if there is a take-home message it is that growers with diversity are more resilient than those who put "all their eggs in one basket".
At Maclean, where the Farlow family farm has been producing sugar for 150 years, floods are a part of life and the thousands of tonnes of flood nutrient-rich flood mud that big events leave behind have helped to create a very productive operation.
"If we didn't like floods, we wouldn't still be here," says Ross Farlow, who, like thousands of others, lost property during the double deluge of 2022.
At the peak of both occasions there wasn't a lot to do on-farm, except ride over the rows of inundated cane in a boat and monitor how slowly the last of the water escaped.
Pumping out paddocks encircled by low levees and into adjacent drains is allowed when water quality is the same both sides, and helps to prevent black water events.
But the loss of any cane is a financial blow, with the expenses of ground preparation, planting, chemicals, fertilisers and machinery depreciation amounting to $3000 a hectare, requiring every bit of the $38 to $42 a tonne for cane, with yields typically above 100t/ha.
Agronomists and researchers working with the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative are continuing their investigation into what kind of cane performed after the 2022 floods but it is too early to call out one plant over another.
On the Farlow's farm new variety Q232, included for its ability to yield more Commercial Cane Sugar, or CCS, succumbed after 36 hours of inundation. This was young "plant cane" not yet on its first ratoon.
The old "tried and true" variety Q208 planted alongside in the same paddock, pictures, survived the flood with minimal set-back while a crop of Q240 on its fourth ratoon and just high enough to keep its growing nodes out of the flood, has positively thrived in the wet conditions.
However, researchers investigating the resilience of varieties are not ready to call out one type over another.
Spokesman for the agronomists, and CEO of Sunshine Sugar Chris Connors said sugar cane producers should look beyond the reliability of "Mr Dependable", Q208 when planning a farm, as having most of a crop dominated by one variety could set up growers for a fall, should disease like rust make its presence known.
"It takes a while to see how they fare," he said.
"Some varieties look terrible soon after a flood but then their roots begin to get going and they sprout shoots and grow on. Some simply die and disappear and others show very little effect.
"There is no definitive conclusion at this time but we will get there down the track."
Stories of variable response to the flood make the investigation more confusing, with one farm showing no effect in its resilient Q208 variety while just down the road it has died.
"It's all very confusing," Mr Connors said.
"Why should a variety die in on place and not another?"
During the January 2013 flood on the Tweed, variety Q211 was wiped out as standing water cooked in the hot sun following the rain event and a black water event composted paddocks and crops.
"Growers were saying how terrible this variety of cane was; how useless it was in a flood and yet in the March 2022 flood it performed really well," he said.
This year's floods have had the benefit of cool cloudy days following high water.
"Every flood event is different," Mr Connors said. "It is not all about the cane varieties.
"For that reason we promote a number of varieties on farm. Diversity is a good thing."
He noted that "putting all eggs in one basket", such as by planting only tried and true types like Q208, could result in a disaster.
That's exactly what happened to Q124, which promised so much then turned up its toes all at once during an outbreak of deadly orange rust. It turned out that variety was highly susceptible to the fungus. Q208 is also vulnerable to rust, but shows some level of resistance.
"This is all about nature," Mr Connors said. "It's not clear cut. Every situation is different."
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