It’s no secret that the Local Sugar Industry is facing some of its toughest days ahead. Right now, European Prices are at an all time low which makes the local industry struggle to remain viable since the cost of production is higher than the returns.
You, our readers, have had to absorb the blow of the low world prices for sugar by paying 50% more for a pound of white sugar, but in 2017, things will get a bit tougher for the industry because the European regulators will remove restrictions currently holding Beet Sugar farmers from competing equally with Sugar Cane Farmers. So, since the price will be driven down further due to high supply and low demand, the local industry needs to do everything it can to remain competitive.
Cost cutting measures need to seriously be considered, and one area that the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI) is asking farmers to look at is the harvesting of sugar. Currently the cane farming community harvest their crop using cane cutters. Their fields have to be burnt, and then, right after that, these workers go in and use machetes to cut down every stalk of sugar cane. It’s a very inefficient way of doing business, and the SIRDI along with the millers, Belize Sugar Industries Limited, are hoping that farmers will consider mechanized harvesting as a suitable replacement.
Mechanized harvesting takes place where a big John Deere harvester, which is a piece of equipment used to harvest crops, passes by and cuts down each of the cane stalks, cleans them of some the unnecessary leafy parts, and deposit them in a high tip wagon, or a delivery truck. Apart from the labour cost reduction, it has the added benefits of being able to harvest cane at a very high rate of 25 to 40 tonnes of cane per hour, an efficiency that cane cutters cannot match.
Then, it also cleans the cane of the mud that is often tracked into the factory and slows down the milling equipment. Mud is an enemy to factory owners because it puts the grinding equipment under stress that it should not have, and causes wear and tear at an abnormally fast rate. Also, the additional benefit is that mechanized harvesters can harvest cane that is not burnt, which in the industry is called “green harvesting”.
Technicians in the industry tell us that burning the cane is done for health reasons because it destroys animals like snakes that may be lurking in the fields. That’s dangerous to cane cutters. Also, fires burn the leaves off the stalks and destroy about 80% of what is considered trash. The mechanized harvesters can remove that “trash” while it passes through the elevators to deliver the properly cut cane to the high tip wagons or the delivery trucks. There is a fear mechanized harvesting will cause a loss of labour to the cane cutters. The technicians at SIRDI tell the press that these cane cutters can be trained in the mechanized aspects of harvesting. That raises the value of their labour from hard menial, to skilled labour.
The issue that faces this new regime is that it has to be a widespread rollout of mechanized harvesting. For the new method to work efficiently, the mechanized harvesters need to be cutting 400 to 450 tonnes of cane per day. That means that the cane farming community needs to embrace it. Cane farmers don’t have huge tracks of land being used for cane farming. So, cane farmers would have to organize themselves into blocks to harvest cane at the required amount to make sure that it is viable, and that there is no wastage of fuel or time to run the harvesters.