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CYCLONE RONA PUTS AUSTRALIAN SUGAR ON NEW ALERT

Date: 15-Feb-99
Country: Australia

The cyclone, at an intensity of two on a Bureau of Meteorology scale which runs to a maximum of five, had begun to push down cane in north Queensland coastal areas, Ian Ballantyne, general manager of grower organisation CANEGROWERS, told Reuters.

"It will cause problems," Ballantyne said.

Much of the sugarcane in areas cut early in the last harvest, which ended in December, until now had been looking good, he said.

But Rona was now pushing this cane down, he said.

Cyclone Rona at around 0600 GMT (5.00 p.m.) was generating maximum wind gusts of 150 km an hour at its centre 120 km east of Cairns.

It was travelling westsouthwest at a speed of 20 km an hour, an official with the Bureau of Meteorology's cyclone warning centre said.

Rex Falls, regional director of the cyclone warning centre, said the cyclone was powerful enough to cause community disruption, to bring down trees and power lines and to possibly unroof some houses.

Ballantyne told Reuters that an assessment of whatever damage the sugarcane crop might sustain from the Rona could not be expected before next week.

He also said that flooding in the south of Queensland, not associated with Rona, would affect only about one percent of the total cane cut in the state.

In 1998 Queensland, which produces almost all of Australia's raw sugar, crushed 37.07 million tonnes of cane for the production of an estimated 4.5 million tonnes of raw sugar.

The state's cane and raw sugar production in 1998 was severely squeezed by persistent torrential downpours in northern coastal areas, which reduced sugar content in the cane and caused much cane to be left uncut in the field.

Ballantyne said on Thursday that the Australian sugarcane industry expected more cyclones this wet season.

"We're up for a wet February and March," he said.

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