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Sugar girds up for difficult season ahead

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Sugar Cane

Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2019. 4:21 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Cane farmers in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts will not be sleeping easy for the next few weeks as they pray for rain and fight their cane stalks to grow to proper harvest conditions.

Shortly after the New Year, on January 3, the industry’s stakeholders will meet to set a date for the start of the crop.

Nevertheless, they already know, according to Olivia Carballo Avilez, that production will be down by between 27 and 30 percent, particularly in the Corozal District.

Avilez, Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI/ASR)’s cane farmer relations manager, says this is the worst condition for the crop in a generation. “In [the] Corozal area, the impact was a lot more than in Orange Walk, but precisely on the canes that were cut last year, mainly in December and January because they went longer in the extended drought.”

It will take less time to mill because of less production, Avilez projects, assuming a grinding rate of 6,700 tons per day, and they want to avoid the start of the rainy season in May and early June.

The priority is to get as much from the canes that are available for harvest, says Carballo Avilez: “Because of the impact, we can’t really do anything about what we’ve lost; what we can do, though, is ensure that the cane comes in with high quality and that means clean, fresh, mature cane.” She added that the domino effect extends to final production, export and prices.

In BSI’s case, as noted by agronomist, Amelio Chi and Carballo Avilez, it had to decide to cut down and burn as much as 50 hectares of its crop because it would cost too much to harvest because there was little cane quality. Chi explained why it would not be wise to wait on the early-harvesting fields: “If we deliver inferior quality to the factory then we affect everybody; and so as a means of practice that we are recommending, yes, we do [recommend]; the analysis would need to be done; if the field itself is not feasible or it’s too expensive to harvest, then we do the practice and next year we will have a better crop.”

The sugar cane plant is a hardy perennial that can be re-grown for up to 7 years, and the B52 variety grown by up to 60 percent of farmers is heavily stressed in drought conditions. Burning and inputting fertilizer and pesticides along with related chemicals treat the field so that it can start growing right away, depending on weather conditions.

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