Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Sabina Sugar Shed

Last week when we had the rental car we took a trip to the town of Sabina and visited The Sugar Shed, which is a miniature sugar cane processing plant. We could have visited the real cane processing plant but that would have involved a lot of climbing stairs and walking in a dusty environment for several hours. We were afraid that Zachary might get tired with that heavy cast on his arm, or that his arm might start hurting with all the stair climbing and jarring his body; so we instead opted for The Sugar Shed.

We had originally started out to visit an animal sanctuary about 45 kilometers west of Mackay. There were supposed to be kangaroos and koalas and feeding of crocodiles -- and even a barking owl. Luckily, we stopped at a visitors center on our way out of Mackay to see if there were any more touristy things in that general area. At the visitors center we learned that the animal sanctuary was closed. Oooh, sorry to hear that; it had sounded like a fun outing. Glad we didn't drive all the way out there. Sabina was less than an hour drive south of Mackay and sounded much less physically demanding than the real-life cane processing plant tour, so we opted to go to Sabina.

It was an informative little tour. About the only fact that I remember is that back in 1950 it required 26 tons of cane to produce 1 ton of sugar. Today, due to improved irrigation and fertilizers, it requires only 8 tons of cane to produce 1 ton of sugar. There was a short video that showed how cane was harvested by hand in the old days. It also showed examples of the harvesting machines as they have improved over the years. Mackay is right in the heart of Australian cane country. They produce sugar for all parts of the world, including the USA. I don't know why we don't produce our own sugar cane because we certainly have the land space to do so. Cane is still grown in Louisiana but they don't follow the newest techniques and the Louisiana production level per acre is way below that of Australia.

The cane must be crushed within 16 hours from the time it is cut in order to obtain the optimum sugar yield. There are small railways running all over this area. The rails wind through the farms and back to the plant. They have electronic monitoring on the cars and can route the various trains remotely so that all cars reach the plant at the appropriate time for optimum sugar yield. Quite high-tech. Originally cane was cut green; then it was learned that if they burned the fields prior to cutting that it destroyed insects and produced greater sugar yield by locking the liquid into the canes. It was a very dirty, sooty job to cut the burned cane by hand. Even after they started using machines to harvest, it was still a dirty job to harvest a burned cane field. Some farms still burn their fields prior to harvesting, but that technique has fallen out of favor. Today the vast majority of farms are harvested green and the superflous leaves and plant material are burned to fuel the sugar production plant.

Every bit of the sugar cane plant is utilized in some way. They make rum, sugar and molasses from the sugar cane. There is a limit to the amount of molasses needed for foodstuffs (both for humans and livestock), and the majority of the molasses is used to produce ethanol which is used as a gasoline substitute. Sugar cane produces a much higher yield of ethanol per acre than corn, so I do not understand why the USA uses corn for this product. Seems to me like we should be planting sugar cane in all of southern Louisiana and all the no-longer-used rice fields of SE Texas. If anyone knows why we aren't doing this in the USA to produce gasoline substitutes, please let us know.

The Sugar Shed gave Zachary a sample of Fairy Floss -- which turned out to be what we know as Cotton Candy. Bill and I sampled their locally produced rum but found it to be far too sweet for our tastes. They did have half-dozen varieties of great fudge and we bought tiny pieces of several flavors. We drove to see the beach but only got a glimpse of it because we could not find a place to access the beach without walking through someone's yard and we didn't feel comfortable about doing that. It was a nice day.

Here are a few more photos of our new grandson. The crying one was taken when he was one minute old.

Obviously one is with mom right after delivery.

And the final one is granddaughter BeBe (a/k/a Elisabeth) holding her new baby brother Damian.
Elisabeth is excited to have a baby brother but says she doesn't change baby diapers -- that is the parents' responsibility.

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