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Jul 26, 2017

B.S.I. Looks Forward, Wants Farmers to as Well

This week, Belize Sugar Industries Limited’s managers and senior officials are in meetings in Orange Walk Town, reviewing the recently gone sugar cane milling season. It was a record-breaking and successful season beyond the industry’s imagination.  Prices of fifty-seven dollars per ton of cane, while not reaching the lofty heights of neighbors Mexico or elsewhere, are among the highest farmers have seen in the rich history of the industry.  But there are storm clouds on the horizon as it relates to the loss of quota in the European market for cane sugars and, closer to home, questions by the largest group of cane farmers about how much more they can get for their back-breaking work.  ASR/B.S.I. says its plan will work if all are on board. News Five’s Aaron Humes reports.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Sugar hasn’t had many better years in Belize than the one just recently concluded – more than one hundred and forty thousand tons of sugar milled from less cane in the field in near-optimal weather and milling conditions. But vice-president of American Sugar Refining and the company’s country manager for Belize, Celestino Ruiz, told News Five that the best is always yet to come.

 

Celestino Ruiz

Celestino Ruiz, Vice President, A.S.R.

“Right now, what we are doing is reviewing all the good, the bad and the ugly that occurred throughout this crop, so that we can have some lessons learned, we have some things to go and tackle and improve upon in performance from the milling standpoint. We are looking at every variable you can think of, from the beginning all the way through the end of our process to see how we can improve.”

 

Reporter

“I imagine its early days yet, but is there anything that has been pointed out in terms of things that can be improved?”

 

Celestino Ruiz

“We’re working, there is always room for improvement in every aspect of the operation, whether it’s in the extraction, whether it’s in the grinding rate, whether it’s in the steam production – there’s not one stone left unturned, so we’re tackling everything that’s there to improve on it. It’s a continuous improvement program.”

 

But A.S.R./B.S.I. isn’t ready to pop champagne yet. It must convince its main traditional partner, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association, to drop its request for wider re-negotiation of the industry-wide commercial agreement, whose opt-out clause comes up in January of 2018. The Association is consulting its farmers, but says that the price of bagasse and ownership of the product are critical to its coming on board with a proposed twenty-two million U.S. dollar investment in the Tower Hill sugar mill. Ruiz says they can only go so far, and not that far.

 

Celestino Ruiz

“If we are talking about re-opening the commercial agreement, re-negotiating it, the answer at this moment is no; that the industry does not have the luxury of time on its side. This investment, right now, is at risk because we’re moving too slow; we need to move forward, precious time is going by, time that we can’t get back, unfortunately. So we need to move forward. This is an agreement that is mature; it’s established itself over decades and decades, and we suffered quite a bit as an industry as a whole, three years ago, when we went through this re-negotiation. We can’t forget, if you will, the disruption that was caused in the crop, and how that hurt the industry and set the industry back.”

 

The investment, says Ruiz, will start Belize on the path to greater prosperity with the introduction of a value-added product, direct consumption food-grade sugar for the European and Caribbean markets.

 

Celestino Ruiz

“The project is to convert roughly twenty thousand tons of raw sugar to twenty thousand tons of direct consumption food-grade sugar, which will allow higher revenue which would be split as the normal revenue-sharing model in the commercial agreement says. So we expect, instead of sending it as raw sugar, if we send it as direct consumption sugar, that should benefit the farmer to about two dollars Belize per ton of cane.  If we were to expand we’d be expanding into more raw sugar; at this moment with the changes in the E.U., that is not the strategic decision we feel we should be making as an industry. We would be making more raw sugar that’s fighting for commodity space at a very low price. So we would prefer the cane farmers and ourselves to be working on a smaller footprint, but be more productive on a smaller footprint, so if you have one hundred hectares today, let’s plant fifty, and let those fifty make what we used to make on a hundred; so that we as farmers and the mill, be more productive, and hopefully, more returns for all of us.”

 

From Orange Walk Town, Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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