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Jul 11, 2017

B.S.I. hails successful season, prepares for coming quota storm

‘King Sugar’ is especially sweet this year in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. The Tower Hill Factory produced a record-breaking one hundred and forty-four thousand tons of sugar, passing the high mark set in 2015.  They did it in slightly more time, but with less cane actually brought to the mill.  But prices continue to fall and the industry is bracing for the change in preferential access to the European Union sugar market coming in October.  For more on ASR/B.S.I.’s plans, Aaron Humes spoke with ASR Vice-President Mac Maclachlan in Belize City today and filed the following report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

In five more crop days, with a little over twenty-three thousand less tons of sugar cane milled, Belize Sugar Industries’ factory at Tower Hill produced its best ever crop with more than one hundred and forty-four thousand tons of sugar produced and a better quality. American Sugar Refining’s Mac Maclachlan says a number of things had to come together to produce this result.

 

Mac Maclachlan

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

“There are a number of reasons but one of them is high sugar content in the cane; which we are grateful to the farmers for that. Another reason is that we have been improving the extraction rate of sugar at the factory, so we get more sugar out of the cane; and we had blessed weather as well this year which helped us a lot. We had a number of issues with the crop and we weren’t able to give a consistent grinding rate that we would have liked to; but nonetheless it was a very good year, yes.”

 

But B.S.I. doesn’t have much time to pat itself on the back. Later this year it confronts the spectre of direct competition in the European Union and British markets from beet sugar producers. The next step for B.S.I. will be improvements to the mill to produce for the first time, value-added direct consumption sugar for international sale and lobbying to open up the Caribbean market in addition to existing limited sales to the United States.

Mac Maclachlan

“The products that we are looking at are what we call direct consumption or food-grade sugars and we want to increase the capacity or increase production of those food-grade sugars for sale into the E.U. market where they can receive a higher premium; that premium, obviously, is then shared between the mill and the farmers in the usual way. Secondly, we are also looking at how we can work together with the Government, with the sugar association of the Caribbean and other sugar-producing countries to ensure that the Common External Tariff that is applied on raw sugar in the Caribbean market, through CARICOM, is uniformly applied on refined sugar entering the Caribbean market. In that way we can create more space for our high quality DC sugars in the Caribbean market as well as having the E.U. market, so that we have a choice on where to sell the sugars.”

 

The existing Tower Hill factory will see major investment in the coming years but the producers are asking the existing farmers’ associations to see the current purchase agreement through to allow time for the industry to bounce back from the coming shock.

 

Mac Maclachlan

“We are looking at the possibility now of an investment of twenty-two million Belize dollars over this off-crop period, which is essentially for sugar conditioning – that helps to dry the sugar to make sure that you can guarantee that product. The last thing you want is to invest heavily in shipped sugar that ends up as blocks; you need to have it properly conditioned – we’re looking at more storage and other aspects. And in that way we are looking at mitigating the risks of these falling prices in the next few years. That’s the first stage of a number of stages that we have in mind; that budget’s agreed already but we do need and we have asked the farmers through their associations to ensure that we will have guaranteed cane supply over the next four years of the existing commercial agreement.”

 

Maclachlan says that five years after A.S.R. was first invited into Belize’s sugar industry, it recognizes the value of Belize’s sugar industry and dedicates itself to keeping that industry alive and viable.

 

Mac Maclachlan

“What we are looking at doing in the future is stabilizing this industry, making it more sustainable; the sugar world is always a challenging world. Sugar is hugely important to this country, to the whole country, not just to the north of Belize. It brings in hard currency; it provides fifteen percent of the electrical energy needs through renewable sources; and it provides livelihood for a large chunk of the Northern population. So it’s a big issue; we want to push forward, we want to use our knowledge, expertise and our investment to do that, in order to make the industry more beneficial for those involved in it. So we look forward to working with everyone in Belize and moving forward in a progressive, positive way.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

B.S.I. left about twelve thousand tons of its own cane in the fields due to lopsided scheduling and greater amounts of cane available from farmers. The improvements to the mill, putting it at standard capacity, should allow for a maximum of one point five million tons of cane to be milled, producing one hundred and fifty thousand tons of sugar. There are no plans to invest in the abandoned Libertad mill in Corozal.

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