Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2020. 1:42 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: With foreign exchange from other sources quickly drying up, Belize is leaning on its traditional big three – sugar, citrus and bananas – to bring in what dollars there are.
And while the other two are hurting as well, sugar is set for a hard fall.
As of Tuesday, some 672,784 tons of sugar cane has been milled from which 68,841 tons of sugar have been produced, a drop of 20 thousand tons from last season.
The tons cane-tons sugar ratio is a modest 9.77.
But according to the Sugar Cane Production Committee (SCPC), they have not lowered their estimate for the total of cane produced this season, at 1 million tonnes, and at most they are willing to lower the estimate to 950,000.
This week we have been speaking with both sides of the industry – Opposition shadow agriculture minister Jose Mai and Olivia Avilez, the cane farmer relations manager for Belize Sugar Industries Limited/American Sugar Refining (BSI/ASR).
Mai contends that even at peak grinding rate of 6,000 tons daily, he projects that just 850 thousand tons of cane would be produced, a reduction of 35 percent. He cites a combination of losses due to low prices paid by ASR; low yields due to drought; and poor sugar cane to sugar conversion ratio (TC/TS reported by ASR) as contributing to an expected $47 million drop in gross earnings.
Farmers, he said, have been proceeding without any relief from Government, and question why the TC/TS is high as dry weather leads to greater sucrose content in the cane plant.
But according to Avilez, there has been a higher concentration of extraneous material despite the addition of a clarifier to remove such unwanted elements, and in the last week rains have increased the amount of mud on harvested cane. BSI on average is grinding 5,540 tons per day.
Nonetheless, with just 60 percent of projected cane in, the crop will run through June into early July despite the start of the rainy season.
And the updated prices are steady though similar to last year, at $46.01, up from $43.35 due to securing sales for direct consumption and other sugars. The first payment is made on delivery and covers 80 to 82 percent of the total; the other payments are made two weeks after end of crop and in November before the start of the next crop.
While Avilez agrees that crop has been a struggle this year, they have remained in communication with farmers and their leaders and dismisses any suggestion that losses will be as high as Mai thinks. But losses there will be, with more than 417 thousand tons lost from the early plantings in December and January, a cut of 32 percent.
Avilez encourages farmers to maintain their harvest practices and warns that there will be some bumps in the road after two successful seasons in a row.
For comparison, the concluded season in Quintana Roo, Mexico, saw 903 thousand tons of sugar cane delivered to the Beta San Miguel mill in Obregon, a 50 percent drop from last year’s figures of 1.85 million and losses are BZ$90 million.
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