This year’s sugar harvest kicks off on Monday, with officials anticipating a much higher yield than last year’s disappointing 7,000 tonnes of raw sugar.
Speaking at a workshop for cane harvesters and planters at the West Indies Central Sugar Cane Breeding Station Friday, Chairman of Barbados Sugar Industry Limited Patrick Bethell revealed that the 2017 harvest was expected to produce some 12,000 tonnes of sugar, 5,000 tonnes –– or 40 per cent –– more than 2016.
The output from last year’s harvest, which was severely affected by drought, was described as the lowest ever by the industry, which for more than three centuries was the lynchpin of the island’s economy and a major provider of employment for Barbadians.
However, Bethell is projecting a better 2017 season overall, compared to 2016 when the reaping of canes gets going in March.
“The recent weather we have had [dry days and cool nights] are ideal conditions for the cane to ripen, and last week we took samples of canes from all over the island, used a small machine to analyze the juice, and the canes are ready for reaping,” Bethell said.
He told stakeholders the aim was to get the maximum amount of sugar out of each acre of cane.
And amid recent suggestions that the industry was already on its death bed, Bethell assured farmers that there was a future for them in the “direct consumption market, where the sugar is processed here, passes through a HACCP [Hazard analysis and critical control points]-certified packaging facility, is placed in a yellow and green bag, and put directly on the shelves at the supermarkets for us to purchase.
“That sugar can fetch you as much as US$1,000 per tonne, whereas when we put it in a bulk hold and send it overseas to get it processed, we would only be getting US$300 per tonne,” he pointed out.
The sugar official also reported that locally produced molasses was in high demand by the premium rum industry. And, based on the response at international trade shows, he was confident that Barbadian sugar still found favour internationally.
“So we’ve got to make sure we are planting the right varieties of cane, fertilizing the crop and spraying it at the right time, and harvesting at the right time,” Bethell said.
He also thanked the Barbados Workers Union for its “mature approach” to negotiations, even though he acknowledged that there was still at least “one small outstanding matter” in relation to pay for the sugar workers, which was not expected to hold up the start of the crop.