A cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the early reaping of this year’s sugar crop.
It is because the island’s independent cane farmers may not cut a single blade of cane if they are not paid outstanding monies from last year.
In what amounts to an ultimatum, Mark Sealy, chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL) – the organization which represents the independent producers – hinted that his members would withdraw their labour unless paid before the crop begins.
“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 explained.
He told Barbados TODAY the BSIL would be working hard to try to ensure all of these issues are resolved by the start of the harvest.
The independent cane producers’ spokesman recalled that they were hoping to be paid before Christmas last year but that did not happen.
“We were hoping to get it before Christmas, but we would expect to get that before crop. We put in the request . . . but it would be important for us to get that before crop because, of course, all the private farmers’ cash flow is in a very bad state at the moment,” Sealy lamented.
“We have only been paid $80 [per ton 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,” the chairman emphasized.
Asked if the farmers would not work if the money was not paid before the start date of the crop, he replied: “Let’s just say it is going to be very important to have that money…and what I would say is we need it very shortly. We can’t wait another month and a half. Fertilizer for planting cane needs to be bought. So really and truly we need it all like now.”
Regarding the upcoming crop, Sealy’s projection is in sharp contrast to that of general manager of the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) Leslie Parris, who is forecasting a similar output to last year’s or even a slight increase.
“We have had a shorter growing time and we did not get the kind of rainfall in 2018 that we got in 2017. Some of the rattoon cane are not looking too healthy…We expect a lesser crop than 2018,” Sealy said.
He noted that the sugar crop started April 12 last year, about two months late.
This year it is due to revert to around its usual period of February with projections of 146,000 tons of cane, which translate to just over 11,000 tons of sugar.
The BAMC, the BSIL and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) are expected to meet shortly with one of the agenda items being the date for the official start of this year’s harvest. [email protected]