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Late start, heavy rains souring harvest, say private planters

by Sheria Brathwaite
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As the 2024 sugarcane harvest continues, planters from the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL) remain concerned that the delayed start to the season will negatively affect their operations.

Mark Sealy, the group’s chairman, told Barbados TODAY that the long delay will not only cause disruptions during the rainy season but will also affect their cultivation practices.

While some farmers reported having harvested all the canes on their plantations, Sealy said others still had significant work ahead.

“We are still going, still putting in some tonnage,” he said. “There are a few farms that still have quite a bit more tonnage to put in. We didn’t start till the end of March so we just had about two months of harvesting. [The] crop takes about three months. I think that the tonnes are going to be down a bit and that is because we started a bit late so the canes are overripe but things are still going relatively smoothly.”

Sealy noted that recent heavy rains caused delays in the fields as the waterlogged ground made it difficult for heavy equipment to operate.

“If we get a lot more rain it would not be easy,” he added. “Farmers also have to cultivate the fields and when you start late you have to cultivate when [it is] wet outside and that makes it very difficult. This is one of the main reasons why it is important to start the crop in February because you want cultivation at a suitable time, not in the wet season.”

This year’s historic sugarcane harvest began on March 25 – the first under worker-owned, cooperative management after the Barbados Sustainable Energy Cooperative Society Ltd (CoopEnergy Barbados) took over the business of the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Management Company Co. Ltd last year.

CoopEnergy created two companies to run sugar production – Agricultural Business Company Ltd. (ABC), which oversees just over 4 000 acres of land, and Barbados Energy and Sugar Company Inc. (BESCO), which runs the island’s sole operable sugar mill at Portvale, St James.

From the start of the year, BSIL farmers had called for an early harvesting date, but CoopEnergy stressed that the harvest would only begin once a brix test to determine the canes’ optimal sucrose content showed favourable results. The company revealed in a March 14 statement that the test results were ideal, the factory would be ready four days later and cane deliveries would start on March 20.

As of Thursday morning, 85 000 tonnes of cane in total from both BSIL and ABC had been delivered to Portvale, Sealy said.

CoopEnergy has remained tight-lipped about the harvest’s progression and the sugar industry’s overall estimates, claiming a distinction from the industry’s former status as a state-owned enterprise. BSIL farmers had earlier predicted they would deliver around 85 000 tonnes of cane this year – seven per cent more than their 79 000-tonne production last year.

Some BSIL growers reported completing harvesting on their lands, including the manager at Edgecumbe Plantation in St Philip, who said about two weeks ago he had sent 10 109 tonnes to the factory. Ashbury Plantation in St George also finished harvesting over 2 000 tonnes and was said to be helping Redland Plantation, St John to cut its canes.

sheriabrathwaite@barbadostoday.bb

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