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Dec 5, 2016

Sugar Crop Begins; Industry Stakeholders on Same Page

Today, the 2016-2017 sugar crop in Corozal and Orange Walk began. More than one point three million tonnes of sugar cane are expected to be delivered for processing to the Tower Hill factory run by American Sugar Refining Belize Sugar Industries. There are no outstanding issues between the millers and the farmers, and all that stands in the way of a successful season is Mother Nature and no factory problems. Aaron Humes has a report from Tower Hill.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Very little is left to chance in an industry as important to Belize as sugar. Start too late and you could run into the teeth of the rainy season and ruin sugar quality. Start too early, and run the risk of dry conditions which reduce the sucrose content in the cane stalk. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Belize Sugar Industries/American Sugar Refining and the three cane farmers’ associations, not to mention the Government oversight bodies, want to get it just right.

 

Mac Maclachlan

Mac Maclachlan, Vice-President, International Relations, BSI/ASR

“We’re starting this year around about the same time as last year but the big difference is the weather; it’s rained a little bit here; but it’s basically been a lot drier – this is a La Nina experience in the weather at the moment, which means we are hoping it will be a drier crop. Last year we had a lot of water, a lot a mud coming into the mill; it slows the process and it reduces the quality of the sugar. So, as with anything agricultural, we are in the hands of God above and whatever weather comes along for the crop. But everything’s ready, and we are hoping to make a good start this year with high quality.”

 

An estimated one point three nine million tonnes of cane are waiting in the fields, matured over six months of summer sun and occasional rain. For the next five to six months, they will be scythed down and carted off in trucks like these to the Tower Hill sugar factory, to be harvested for the sugar you see on store shelves both locally and abroad and molasses. But this is the last year that Belize cane sugar is home free with preferential market access in the European Union and United Kingdom. Beginning in October of 2017, farmers from the African, Caribbean and Pacific Union of countries must compete directly with European beet sugar farmers who will no longer be under quota. But new Minister of Agriculture, Senator Godwin Hulse, and Maclachlan say it’s not time to panic yet.

 

Godwin Hulse

Senator Godwin Hulse, Minister of Agriculture

“It is even more critical now that the farmers utilize the facility of SIRDI and all the other research that is coming forward to get their yields up, because if you were getting fifteen tons on an acre and you can push that up to forty-five tons on an acre with just a little more inputs, you are ahead of the game, even when the prices go down, that is the issue. And we are a big boy or a big girl, just to be gender neutral; we’re thirty-five years old; and the ACP countries are old countries now; I mean, the Caribbean countries, Pacific countries and African countries are old countries now. The European Union is saying, look, it’s no longer hands out, it’s no longer hands up, it is partnership and competition, and I think we should be able to sustain ourselves.”

 

Mac Maclachlan

“There will still be a room for cane sugar to enter and be refined in our refineries both in Europe and in the U.K., but we can expect the prices to fall, basically, to the world level; we can never predict what those prices will be, but it’s likely they’ll be lower than – certainly lower than the prices enjoyed in recent years by ACP-preferential suppliers.”

 

Closer to home, the Sugar Cane Production Committee is hoping that recent pest problems with the froghopper insect will not lower final figures for production. It is hoping that Belize can set new records in both sugar cane milled and sugar produced.

 

Carlos Itza

Carlos Itza, Chairman, Sugar Cane Production Committee

“We are cognizant that the mill has the capacity to grind one point three million tonnes; at the same time, starting earlier can ensure us that we push that one point three to a higher number. How much that is; well, it’s going to be tried this year. The next thing is that we have ticket officers, who ensure that the cane or the trucks enter in an organized form; we also have cue chemists and we also have factory chemists; all those people are doing is ensuring that there is fair play for all the farmers to deliver their cane as assigned from their production estimate.”

 

Elvis Canul, chairman of the Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association, says his six hundred and nine members can’t wait to get the trucks rolling south.

 

Elvis Canul

Elvis Canul, Chairman, Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association

“We have high expectations in quality and also the amount of cane that will be delivered. We are hopeful that God will permit a good weather pattern for this crop and we are looking forward to having all of our cane production brought to the mill.”

 

Reporter

“One point three nine; that is the goal. Do you believe that that will be achieved?”

 

Elvis Canul

“We are looking optimistic at those numbers. As our Association, we represent a little under that one hundred and fifty thousand tonnes of that one point three four. We are looking forward to the crop; we cannot guarantee – the production in the field all depends on the maintenance that was provided by each individual farmer last year; and at years it depends, the productivity will depend on the type of maintenance that the fields got, but definitely we are looking forward to delivering all our cane.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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