About a quarter of Australia's sugar cane crop may have been destroyed after Cyclone Yasi tore through key growing areas, with the damage exacerbating already tight global supplies and helping push U.S. futures to three-decade highs last week.
The Category Five storm passed over a wide area of the north Queensland state where more than 90 percent of cane crop in the world's third largest raw sugar exporter is grown.
In a normal year the total industry produces around 33 million tonnes of cane. Estimates of losses range from 20 percent to up to 50 percent in the worst hit district of Tully, about 140 km south of Cairns.
The full extent of the losses are not likely to be fully known until mid-year when harvesting starts, but here are some views from cane farmers and industry officials after a Reuters visit to some of the stricken districts:
JOHN KING, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF TULLY SUGAR LTD
Based on experience and this is very early stages at this point, we are forecasting a reduction in crop of about 25 percent in the Tully region.
He said cane sugar content will be reduced as well so the firm's forecast of its 2010/11 sugar output is down around 30 percent.
We're forecasting sugar production now of 175,000 tonnes compared to an earlier forecast of approximately 250,000 tonnes so it is a significant financial hit to the business.
ALF NUCIFIORA, CANE GROWER, TULLY DISTRICT, GROWS 141 HECTARES.
We've experienced other cyclones come through but this was a monster -- we got hammered.
In this paddock where the cane has broken off it could still go 25 tonnes per acre but it usually averages 45 tonnes.
There is no real (variety of) cane that can handle this sort of event.
I was the most frightened in my life -- I've been here in Tully 16 years the and this is the worst I have ever seen.
The cane here has had the tops broken off - it would normally grow another metre but it can't grow anymore so it will side shoot - there will be a lot more green but there will be no more sugar content.
This crop would be 35 percent down in yield but then you have the decline in sugar - it is very hard to measure but that would be a very conservative estimate.
It will take the industry a couple of years to recover because if blokes have got cane that has a lot of damage they might not be able to fix it all up in one year - they have to pick out the worst blocks first and fix them up and then go on to the other blocks so it may take up to three years to get back to normal.
PETER LUCY, TULLY MANAGER FOR CANEGROWERS, INDUSTRY GROUP WHICH REPRESENTS MOST OF AUSTRALIA'S 3,000 CANEGROWERS.
This has been a huge knock to the sugar industry but there's been a lot of overseas interest in buying Australian sugar mills so that has to give you some sort of confidence for the long-term.
That's why you see these companies like Wilmar (Singapore-based Wilmar International ) come in and buy Sucrogen because they're taking a long-term view.
Sucrogen, Australia's largest sugar group, was sold to Wilmar by Australian conglomerate CSR Ltd last year.
TOM DUFFY, INGHAM DISTRICT CANEGROWER, WITH 113 HECTARES
Has been on his farm for 50 years and in a good year sends 8,000 tonnes of cane to the mill. In 2010/11 he only cut 4,000 tonnes because of the wet harvest.
We are only just getting back into the swing of things but with last year's poor season and what's happened with the cyclone and floods Australia just hasn't got the sugar so we can't take advantage of the high prices.. it is such a sad case.
It is affecting the whole industry as Australia exports about 80 percent of its sugar and we are finding it hard to get that 80 percent.
We will have a harvesting season but it will be a poor one ... around here most people in the district will cut three-quarters of a crop, some people might cut only half a crop.
PHIL KITE, RABOBANK SENIOR RURAL MANAGER INGHAM
The world's population is still growing and there is less and less land available for agriculture so the future augurs well for the food industry, including sugar.
Obviously the cyclone has had a very big impact but what we've gone through isn't unprecedented and there is still a very focused interest in the local sugar industry by some very large international businesses that can see the Australian sugar industry has a very bright long-term future.
Part of that is our positioning close to the growing Asian market which is basically supplied by Australia and Thailand, and we do have a freight advantage over Brazil (the world's largest sugar exporter).
STEVE GREENWOOD, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF CANEGROWERS
Overall, despite the cyclone being a very significant event the future isn't that bad if you see the level of foreign money that is being invested here and the fact that prices are still very high.
We're now focused on the clean-up but there is a positive message beyond that.