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Sep 20, 2013

Flooding up north affecting the sugar cane industry

While the rains are wreaking havoc in rural communities, they are also having dire effect on the industry which is the lifeblood of the north. For the past two years the sugar cane industry has recorded banner crops in terms of production, quality and milling. It is in the interests of all the players in the industry to continue that trend, but mother-nature and a pesky bug called the frog-hopper seem determined to thwart their best efforts. The crop season is scheduled to kick off in late November, but there is real concern in certain areas. Mike Rudon travelled to the water-logged cane fields of rural Orange Walk and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

In the small community of Douglas located north of Orange Walk Town, many acres of newly planted cane fields are submerged under water, courtesy of the incessant rains which don’t want to go away.Marcos Osorio is the Director of SIRDI, the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute. He says there is much cause for concern at this point.

 

Marcos Osorio

Marcos Osorio, Director, Sugar Industry Research & Development Institute

“We are looking here at a cane field that was planted around June and what we have as a result of the excess of rains that we’ve had over the past week or so is that we have at this moment several fields under water, and this is one of them, one of the cases. And what happens here is that if water holds for eight-ten weeks in recently planted fields that will be lost where the water is held…the plantings will be lost completely, one hundred percent. In ratoon fields we have the situation where two months or ten weeks after and the water goes away, then the field will still continue. We won’t have serious losses there, but it will severely affect the quality of that cane field.”

 

A drop in production and a drop in quality will result in serious losses for the cane farmers, and really bad news for the industry.

 

Marcos Osorio

“In this area of Douglas, which is known to be a low-lying area, we can lose as much as fifteen percent or twenty-percent of the production of the area. But as an industry, it can be up to fifteen percent, if the rains persist. We may very well lose up to fifteen percent to floods.”

 

Douglas, and other cane-producing communities in Orange Walk and Corozal, are prone to flooding because they are low-lying, but this year seems to be a wetter one than previous years.

 

Marcos Osorio

“We have all this area from Chan Chen, Patchakan, Cristo Rey, Louisville, San Victor, Caledonia that are in low areas and they are affected every year when we have these excess rains. This amount of water that we’ve been getting, and this has been in a short period of time, because the heavy rains started about two weeks ago. We had three consecutive days and right now we’re on the sixth day of rains so this is pretty much more rains at this particular time of the year – although we’ve seen excess precipitation all the way up to October, but at this time I think we’re getting pretty much more rain than we had last year at this time of the year.”

 

The rain is bad enough, but farmers also have to contend with the frog hopper, a bug which can devastate entire acres of sugar cane.

 

Marcos Osorio

“We can safely say that twenty-five to thirty percent of the industry is severely affected by the frog-hopper pest. For example in this area we can appreciate fields like they were burned by fire, but it’s basically frog hopper. And in this area at this moment we can say that about forty percent of the production is severely affected by the frog hopper pest.”

 

With the crop season scheduled for late November, things aren’t looking good for the farmers, who are paid based on the quality of the cane they take to the factory.

 

Marcos Osorio

“If the weather conditions continue we will have a serious problem to start the crop and it will be one, productivity because of the flood waters and the frog hopper pest and secondly the quality. For example a branch like Douglas where we are right now, this will reflect very clearly in their quality results during the harvesting season in the quality and the tons per acre. So their production overall will have a significant dip by the end of next crop which will also impact them in their payment per ton of cane because the payment system today is a payment based on quality, but it’s a payment system which is made as a group. Douglas is paid as a group so the results are an average of the deliveries of the group for the whole harvesting season.”

 

With the odds stocked against them, stakeholders in the industry can do only one thing.

 

 

Marcos Osorio

“We are praying and we are hopeful, we are crossing our fingers that come November – October into November that we get some serious cold fronts that would dry out the waters.”

 

There are sixty thousand acres of sugar cane in production in Orange Walk and Corozal. Between the flood and the pest, as much as a quarter of that could be severely affected. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

Currently the industry in engaged in a sugar replanting program designed to teach farmers better practices, with a view to increasing the yield of sugar cane per acre.

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