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Record Cane Season Closes, But Cane Farmer Concerns Persist

Record Cane Season Closes, But Cane Farmer Concerns Persist
July 20
07:25 2019

The 2018/2019 sugar crop season recently came to a close on July 15, with the northern sugar industry seeing a record year of production at the Tower Hill factory in Orange Walk. The factory produced over 155,000 metric tons of sugar in an extended 214 day season, exceeding the previous record set in 2016 by more than 12 thousand metric tons. Despite this success, however, some farmers say they are still struggling to break even due to the price of cane on the market.

Farmers in Belize are paid $48.30 per tonne of cane delivered to the factory, however, some farmers believe they should fetch a higher price on the market as some farmers working at factories in neighboring Mexican towns collect upward of $90 per tonne of cane.

Chairman of the Orange Walk branch of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, Alfredo Ortega told the Reporter that many farmers also had excess amounts of cane, taking a loss on the unused crops. He said farmers noted that there were some days when the mill was not operational due to maintenance, affecting farmers who otherwise would have made deliveries on those days.

American Sugar Refineries (ASR/BSI) Vice President Mac McLachlan said: “Due to the absence of proper management information, it is possible a small quantity of cane remains in the field, we estimate less than 1 percent. We know that is always regrettable and we hope that the estimation of the crop next year provides the accuracy needed to plan effectively.”

A spokesperson for Belize Sugar Industries told the Reporter, however, those maintenance delays at the factory were attributed to the production time for producing higher quality value added cane direct consumption sugar, which fetches a higher price on the market. According to BSI, with regard to price of cane per tonne, other markets pay based on demand for sugar and in other larger markets, most of their sugar in consumed and sold locally whereas the majority of sugar produced in Belize is exported. BSI explained that these and other international market forces are the factors that determine the prices.

The factory milled a total of over 1.317 million metric tons of sugar cane this season and the period of time for milling was extended due to favorable weather conditions. The mill is open on average for about 180 days per crop season, but was extended to 214 days as dryer weather conditions provided for easier milling of the cane, according to BSI. “This is a landmark crop,” BSI Country Manager, Celestino Ruiz said. “We are grateful to the farmers for bringing high quality cane and to our workers for extracting record quantities of sugar from it. With investment now pouring into the factory during the off crop, we are in a strong place to build a sustainable future for all involved in the industry.”

BSI also said it plans to expand its production of value added sugars through its various investment projects, which should translate to the vast majority of farmers being paid more equitably as currently only around 40% of farmers deliver more than 500 tonnes of cane per season, an amount that provides considerable profit margins compared to farmers who deliver less than 200 tonnes per season.

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