INCREASED gold production at Newcrest Mining’s Lihir project was highlighted in the company’s March quarterly report, with 610,186 ounces of gold and 24,307 tonnes of copper produced.

Newcrest managing director Sandeep Biswas said things were looking up for Lihir.

“Lihir showed some improvement in the quarter as part of a staged and structured improvement strategy focusing on plant reliability, stability and intensity,” he said.

Lihir gold production of 178,628 ounces of gold was 11 per cent higher than the previous quarter, with the increase being the primary driver for the 12% reduction in all-in sustaining cost (AISC) to US$1,096 per ounce.

Ore tonnes milled was 7% higher than the previous quarter with Lihir benefiting from a weakening Kina and Australian dollar relative to the US dollar.

Lihir achieved a record lost time injury free rate for the quarter at 501 days, with the group total recordable injury frequency rate at 4.2 per million man hours – higher than 3.9 in the previous quarter.

Ore mined was 67% higher than the previous quarter and ex-pit waste mined increased by 21%, Newcrest said.

Lihir reported a record grinding throughput of 2.8 metric tonnes, with the company continuing to target a sustainable grinding throughput rate of 12 metric tonnes per annum by the end of the 2015 calendar year.

Newcrest said the new operating strategy, which was in place for the full quarter, assisted an improvement in autoclave throughput, in addition the installation of new oxygen flow-metres during the quarter increased the maximum flow of oxygen into the autoclaves.

Newcrest completed all planned mill and autoclave shutdowns in the quarter and said there are planned modular mill shutdowns scheduled for May and June 2015.

Focus at Lihir for the June quarter is to further increase mill and autoclave throughput and process higher grade material from ex-pit ore in line with the mine plan, Newcrest said.

Production at the company’s Hidden Valley site was marginally higher for the March quarter, but was restricted by unplanned downtime and ore availability.

Hidden Valley’s US dollar AISC per ounce remained elevated as lower site operating costs and higher by-product credits were offset by higher sustaining capital and higher production stripping to expose ore in stage five, the company said.

Site operating costs at Hidden Valley benefitted from lower abnormal expenses than in the prior quarter and the weakening Kina.

Newcrest said improvement initiatives were progressed during the quarter, including renegotiation of fuel and reagent contracts, expatriate headcount reduction and a mine plan review.

Newcrest agreed to acquire the Wamum tenements from Barrick and Terenure, announced in the March quarter.

Located about 22 kilometres North West of Wafi-Golpu, the tenements represent an opportunity for porphyry discoveries within a well-endowed district, Newcrest said.

Exploration will commence on completion of the acquisition, which is subject to conditions precedent including certain regulatory approvals.

Newcrest also reduced its guidance for totalcapital expenditure for 2015-2016 to between A$585 million and A$625 million, which the company said partially, reflects a focus on capital efficiency across the company.