The Belizean sugar industry is growing by leaps and bounds as both American Sugar Refining/Belize Sugar Industries in the Orange Walk district and Green Tropic in the Cayo district area making substantial investments to increase production.
While Prime Minster Hon. Dean Barrow intimated in his Independence Day address that ASR/BSI would be upping production to a grinding rate of 10,000 tonnes of cane per day, that won’t happen this crop.
The president of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, Alfredo Ortega, told Reporter they indeed hope to reach this production target within five years time.
For this crop, starting in December 2013, and continuing through June-July 2014, ASR/BSI has modified their machinery at Tower Hill Factory for a faster throughput to 7,500 tonnes of cane per day, according to what they have told the BSCFA.
Knowing exactly how much cane the factory will need is important for the association, who introduced a new cane delivery system of delivery-by-appointment two years ago, with much improved cane quality, translating to greater sugar yield in the Tonnes of Cane to Tonnes of Sugar (TCTS) ratio.
This also meant the cane farmers got much higher payments per tonne of cane.
The association needs to know the factory’s cane need to schedule the appointments for the farmers. Their extension officers are already out in the cane fields evaluating the maturity of the cane to determine whose cane will be mature and of optimum quality to deliver when the factory starts grinding.
Barrow also alluded to the northern cane farmers planting more cane to meet the higher grinding rate; again Ortega said much of the new cane planted in the coming months won’t be mature enough for this crop, but should be ready for the next crop 2014-2015.
Ortega said farmers are taking advantage of financing that have been made available under the Associated Measures for Sugar fund, which is being disbursed through the Development Finance Corporation.
The farmers have been receiving loans repayable at 8 percent interest on the reducing balance. Some of the cane already planted may be ready by the end of this crop, Ortega explained, but most of it will be used as cane seed to replant for next crop.
Farmers will continue to palnt in October through to January, using new planting methods the Association has taught them to maximize yields
As to expanding production for this crop, Ortega said farmers in areas affected by flooding are simply hoping and praying for the best and that the floods recede as soon as possible, as the fields in the areas of Douglas, Yo Creak, San Roman and Santa Cruz are presently under water.
Coupled with the depredations of the froghopper insect pest, sugar yields and cane quality could diminish if the floods don’t go down quickly.
Cane farmers in Patchakan, Caledonia and Consejo have also been affected by the flooding as both the Rio Hondo and the New River are rising and overflowing their banks.
Green Tropic has just submitted a revised Environmental Impact assessment to the Department of the environment, which is on the DOE’s website; but government has already given the company the green light.
According to engineer and environmental consultant Jose Garcia, who prepared the EIA, the company had already cleared some 8,000 acres and begun planting cane. In areas where they do not have enough cane seed, they are also planting beans and corn so the land won’t lie idle until the cane seed is ready.
The company has also surveyed the site where the factory will be erected and construction should begin when the machinery arrives in county in a month’s time