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Cane testing for better sugar at BSI Print E-mail
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Thursday, 26 April 2018 00:00

It’s no secret to anyone that right now, the sugar cane farmers of the north are going through a tough transition in the sugar cane industry. Belize’s sugar is competing on an even playing field with sugar produced in the most technologically advanced countries in the rest of the world.

Since the changes to the European Union’s sugar market regime, Belize has lost preferential market access, and sugar produced here is competing directly with the sugar produced by the European beet farmers who can produce more sugar at  a cheaper production price.

So, to help the farmers, Belize Sugar Industries (BSI), and their majority shareholder American Sugar Refineries (ASR), have been undertaking to help the farmers to get the most out of their cane fields. The most recent initiative that BSI/ASR is leading is the sugar cane testing program. Cane is not like other agricultural produce that one can tell it is ready for harvesting by simple means. So, BSI teamed up with the American chocolate company, Hershey’s, to come up with a scientific method of determining the most optimal time to harvest the cane, and deliver it, so that the maximum amount of sugar can be extracted. Readers will remember that this pilot program was debuted and launched in November of last year under the theme, “Sweet Sampling For Sweet Returns”. It’s currently running, and those farmers who are participating are already seeing the benefits.

The 5,000 sugar cane farmers within the 3 associations are organized into 18 test groups. They have date and time schedules for the delivery of their cane to the mill. 6 of those groups have signed up to be part of this sugar cane testing program. The millers are trying to increase the efficiency of their production capacity, which is a win for everybody. The farmers get to bring cane from their fields that are at just the right maturity. They get a higher payout for the cane they deliver, and they maximize their investment in their cultivated cane. The mill gets better quality cane to grind, and more sugar is produced for the amount of cane that is ground. Over all, the sugar industry becomes more competitive in these tough times on the global market for sugar.

So, the way this method is done is that the cane fields are already mapped as part of the Sugar Industry Management Information System (SIMIS). This is another program that BSI and the Sugar Cane Production Committee collaborated on to find out just how much cane is actually in the fields. So, a farmer from the 6 test groups simply has to ask the BSI technicians to test his cane from his fields. A particular portion is chosen, and a GPS device is used to find the plot of the field to be tested. 8 stalks of sugar cane are cut from the center of this plot which are between 5 and 10 acres in size.

It is then marked with the SIMIS identification number that corresponds to the plot, and it is delivered to BSI’s laboratory. From there it is tested for its sugar purity. The way that process works is that the cane is ground up in a spectra-cane equipment, which uses infrared light to analyze the sugar content in the cane samples.

Once that is done, the data is sent to the Cane Farmer Relations desk, where it is properly tabulated and prepared in a report. It is then represented in a map of the cane farmer’s cane fields. Each plot of land is marked according to different color codes which easily guide them around the cane field. If a farmer sees a plot with a green colored marker, they know that BSI’s test says that this part of the cane field is ready to harvest. Cane field parcels with a green color code have passed BSI’s purity test of 83% or higher.

That means that if it is color coded with a yellow indicator, the farmer knows that the BSI test says that this part of the field is approaching maturity, but it may need about 2 more weeks before it can be harvested.  Samples labeled as yellow will have test results of anywhere between 81% and 83% purity.

If it is marked red, then the farmer knows that this part of the field needs to be allowed a few more weeks before it can be harvested. That means that the samples are showing that it is less than 81% pure. That part of the field is occupied by immature cane that needs more time to grow.

The coordinators of this cane quality testing programs say that the farmers who are benefiting from it have been diligent to the point that there is very strong competition among themselves to produce better quality cane. Once they meet a quality threshold, BSI rewards them with more money for their deliveries. So, they are incentivized to bring only best quality cane for milling. 6 test groups have signed up, but having seen the benefits that they are enjoying farmers from 2 other test groups have signed up to take advantage of the opportunity being given to them.

All this means that at the end of the day, the farmers are able to deliver better quality cane, collect more money, and more sugar is produced with less cane.

This program lasts for 3 years, and all 18 test groups will be given an opportunity to join up and learn the techniques. The hope is that these scientific methods will be adapted in the long term, which means that the standard of sugar production will be raised.

Already, the test groups who signed up are enjoying higher prices as their payment, because their cane’s purity has improved drastically.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 April 2018 12:07