Cane harvest begins

The 2014 sugar cane harvest will begin at 10 o’clock Monday morning, January 20, according to the terms of an interim agreement which the Belizean Farmers Association signed with representatives of Belize Sugar Industries Ltd at BSI Staff Club in Orange Walk Town late Monday evening, January 13.
BSI undertook to act in good faith and that it intended to make payment for bagasse, ending months of deadlock with farmers over this issue.
Both parties undertook to negotiate and finalize agreement to replace this provisional agreement which will expire at the end of crop, when the last deliveries of cane are received. They now need to negotiate a quantum, how much will be paid for bagasse before then.
The farmers committed to proceed with the harvest without interruption, until the end of crop; welcome news for many farmers who owe the bank, have mortgaged their land or homes, and have children in school and other commitments.
Both parties had their attorneys present and had included an important codicil, that the interim agreement nor any new agreement negotiated would prejudice either party’s legal position with regard to their rights under the previous Memorandum of Agreement, as to how cane is to be delivered, process, paid for, and the operational standards and efficiency of the factory, under the existing cane quality program.
BSI had provided the farmers with an estimate of the cane price in their letter of November 18, 2013, and the first cane payment on delivery will be in line with that estimate.
Farmers undertook to follow the terms and conditions of the existing cane quality program, until a new cane quality program and a new agreement area finalized.
Farmers have enjoyed considerable success and record yields over the past three years under a cane quality system whereby cane is delivered by appointment, when it meets the minimum standards for quality as regards to the sugar content in the juice in a sample from their cane. The appointment system cut the “kill to mill” time (when the cane is cut to when it is ground) to a matter of hours; thereby reducing drastically the sugar lost through fermentation of the cane while farmers sat days in their trucks, waiting in line to deliver their cane.
BSCFA Chairman Leonardo Cano signed along with Vice Chairman Alfredo Ortega, while BSI’s Chief Executive Officer Joey Montalvo and Chief Financial Officer Belizario Carballo signed on behalf of the company.
Both parties had agreed to a compromise to get the crop started last Wednesday and after BSI got approval from their principals, American Sugar Refining, Cano and Ortega had taken the terms of the revised interim agreement to their members for approval at a general meeting at Escuela Tecnica Secundaria Mexico in San Roman village, Corozal district on Sunday, January 12.
After the meeting, Ortega commented that there still remains the matter of the sugar roads, which are in an deplorable condition. Even before the agreement was signed, the government of Belize had issued a statement congratulating the farmers and BSI on reaching an accord, and committed the government to spending $2 million to repair the sugar roads and for work to begin immediately.
Ortega said the rains had not only played havoc with the roads, it had also affected the cane quality in flood-prone areas, and they would need to coordinate with the Ministry of Works to first identify which farmers’ cane has ripened and is of good enough quality for harvest, and to prioritize the repair of the roads in those areas and on the high ground first.
Tower Hill factory can grind up to 7,000 tons of cane per day and will need a minimum of 5,000 tons per day to operate efficiently, but Ortega said he did not feel the farmers would be able to achieve this target in the first days of crop as lot depended on the weather and how fast work could proceed on reconditioning the sugar roads.

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