The sugar crop started today after successive delays - and while the event usually passes without even a mention in the news, this year is different because the future of the entire industry is hanging in the balance.
And we visited BSI today where we found that the growers are sufficiently seized by the sense of urgency - here's more in this report.
Jules Vasquez Reporting
Much political scenery and fanfare was made today when this cane farmer from Orange Walk brought in the first truckload of cane for the 2010 cane season.
After the glad-handing, he climbed in his truck, got the green light and rolled into the factory - unto the scale.
It's been happening for decades without all this pomp - but this year the stakes - both politically and business-wise are high as the industry is teetering on the verge of collapse. Speaking of collapse, now there's just an empty space where the core sampler - which was the source of bitter contention ins last year's riots - once rested.
But on this day no core sampler was needed because from what we saw, the farmers are doing their part to ensure that there is not a collapse. They delivered cane of a visibly improved quality; it was green, robust, without the usual, leaves, roots and mud, and it was not burnt.
It may not last forever - but it was a good start - and to ensure that it stays like this President of the Cane Farmers Association Alfredo Ortega they have a policing mechanism and a commitment from the farmers:
Alfredo Ortega, Chairman, BSCFA Committee of Management
"Our commitment is to bring clean, fresh and mature material to the factory. As you can see these trucks that is delivering cane at this moment their cane is very clean for the first time in about 20 years that we are bringing this quality of cane and farmers are committed to that, we are committed on our side to do all that is in our path so that we can deliver this material clean and fresh to the factory. The other side is the milling that the factory needs to do so that we can achieve the quality of sugar we are looking for."
And more than just a commitment - they cut the ribbon for a new unit with a million dollar budget. It is called SIRDI and it will ensure that the quality is maintained and that the cane delivered is of high quality which will bring them closer to their target of optimal yield and higher quality, that is fewer tonnes of cane producing a greater tonnage of sugar:
Rene Montero, Minister of Agriculture
"As important as opening the 2010//2011 SAFRA is the official launching of the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI). SIRDI is an institution established by the sugar industry act of 2001 and is the principal entity responsible for the development of an efficient and productive sugar industry research and extension system that is economically viable, financial sustainable and environmental safe."
And while the mood was upbeat – a decided down-note came when some of the invited farmers spotted a truck carrying inferior quality cane from a BSI-owned field. As these images show, the cane was dry, brittle and obviously devoid of sugar juice. It’s an issue – cane like this brings down the overall quality of the crop – and affects the bottom line for the farmers – and if BSI is doing it at their own factory, then what can be expected of the farmers.
It’s a contentious issue for the farmers – and one key farmer told us how he feels:
Farmer, Superior - SIRDI
"The company can do whatever they want because they are the owners of the factory, then we as cane farmers we are not going to allow that."
Edwardo Zetina, Mgr. Research/Cane Farmer Relations
"Well, the BSCFA chemists are doing their job, they look at a truck and for them it's of inferior quality. They will test it and the test will decide whether it's of inferior quality. Let us rules of what the number will be and once the numbers are ok it might be inferior to you and maybe to some people, but it is not inferior for accepting it into the mill, so while you might look at it right now and say it is of inferior quality compare to other units that we see going in perhaps but when you look at the numbers we will decide whether it is inferior."
It's a contentious issue for the farmers - and one key farmer told us how he feels:
"That makes us feel very bad because we are going to make a big effort to cut clean cane."
Edwardo Zetina, Mgr. Research/Cane Farmer Relation
"You and I not make a decision to say that it is of inferior quality, let the process take place. Remember that inferior is subjective, it might be inferior to you but there are very clear."
And while there is a dispute - the important thing is they're talking - and there is some level of accountability and hopefully transparency in the testing as well. It has to work, because there is a lot riding on this year's crop - no less than the livelihood of six thousand farmers.
For the season to be considered successful - the farmers would have to deliver 1.1 million tonnes of cane within the 30 week crop period.