2019 sugar harvesting may not be so sweet

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This year’s sugar cane harvest will fall significantly short of expectations. And to make matters worse, there is uncertainty about whether reaping will begin on time, if farmers are not paid outstanding monies for last year’s harvest.

General Manager of the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) Leslie Parris said this afternoon it is now expected that over 9,000 tonnes less than what had been projected would be reaped this year.

He said the previous forecast of 146,000 tonnes of cane from the harvest has been substantially scaled down to 137,000 tonnes. And even that, Parris warned, could drop further by the end of harvesting.

“We were looking at 137,000 tonnes of cane. However, based on the lack of rainfall, it might be lower than that. The lack of rainfall would have been one of the main reasons. The drop from 146,000 to 137,000 would be significant, as you would appreciate,” he told Barbados TODAY.

Parris said the impact of cane fires on the crop has not been as significant as in previous years. This time around, he said, an average of between 10 and 20 tonnes of cane has been lost to fire.

Last month, the sugar industry executive had said that based on the original forecast for the 2019 harvest, the crop should produce over 11,000 tonnes of sugar. However, this afternoon he said he preferred to wait and see what the sugar output would be.

“We can only tell you that when we process the first deliveries of cane and are able to properly evaluate the sucrose content,” he explained.

To add to the uncertainty, Parris said that next week’s scheduled start of harvesting will be in danger if the Mia Mottley-led administration does not come up with outstanding payment to farmers for the 2017-2018 crop.

“The start of the crop will be subject to certain matters currently being considered by Government, related to payment to farmers for cane supplied in 2017-2018 . . . —that is, the final cane payments for that period,” the BAMC boss said, although he declined to say how much money was owed.

Parris said he expects the Government to address the outstanding payment issue today, but was not in a position to say how it would be worked out.

“So, subject to that being dealt with . . . we will be in a position to start by the end of February,” the BAMC boss said, adding that the island’s only functioning sugar factory – Portvale in St James – was ready to start trials by next Monday, after which it should be “full steam ahead”.

Meanwhile, Mark Sealy, chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL) – the organisation which represents the independent producers – is insisting that his members be paid the outstanding monies before a single cane blade is cut.                          

“We will be ready for the crop. Having said that, we are still to be paid certain monies for the 2018 crop. Obviously, we would need to get those paid before we can start crop…and we would also need to have a price for our cane prior to the start of crop, which would be around the end of February, early March,” Sealy said.                                                 

“We have only been paid $80 [per tonne of cane] so far for the crop last year. There is a further average $70 to be paid, and we are also due [payment for] the Enhanced Cane Replanting Incentive Scheme (ECRIS). Yes, it would be very important that we receive that money prior to the start of crop,” he emphasized.

emmanueljoseph@barbadostoday.bb

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