The bagasse standoff remains in full effect pending word from American Sugar Refinery on whether it is prepared to come to the table to discuss a payment arrangement with cane-farmers. Today, there is no word on whether the multi-national will bend, but at this precise moment the point is still moot. Sugar roads in the north are in such a deplorable condition that even if the dispute were resolved today, farmers would be unable to deliver cane to the factory. This is an ongoing problem and one which needs urgent attention. Prime Minister Dean Barrow has indicated that attention will be paid to those roads, but only if and when he is guaranteed that there will be a 2013/2014 crop. None of the parties seem willing to give an inch, which is not good news for the industry. Today Mike Rudon was in Orange Walk where he experienced one of the primary challenges to the crop season first-hand. Here’s that story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
The sugar roads in the village of San Estevan are in deplorable condition – really terrible shape. Two weeks of alternate cold fronts and sun have improved them considerably, but that’s not saying much at all. There is absolutely no way that loaded cane trucks would be able to maneuver through these deep ruts, and if that isn’t bad enough, there are various spots where culverts have been washed away. We weren’t adventurous enough to try crossing, and trucks definitely would not be able to either.
Alfredo Ortega, Vice-Chairman, Committee of Management
“Like this we have many others not only in this area of San Estevan but also all around in Corozal and Orange Walk. This creates a very difficult situation for the farmers. If the crop would have start the 25th as the mill had announced you will see that they would have had the mill prepared. You will see that this will create a huge problem for the farmers to take their cane to the mill.”
While just maneuvering the muddy, broken roads in San Estevan took most of our time, BSCFA Vice-Chairman Alfredo Ortega explained that all branches are reporting similar conditions. Even if the gods of dispute resolution were smiling happily, intensive road-works would be necessary before farmers can get to work.
“I think that it will need a very heavy work to be done, I think a lot of investment needs to be done not only in bringing white wall to the road but also in replacing those culverts that are being washed away and I believe that some areas don’t need any more culvert I think it is bridge that we need in those areas because of the amount of rain we are having now, it doesn’t have the sufficient space for water to run through, so it will easily be washed away by the heavy currant that is being experienced. I believe that really and truly the government need to bring their engineer and to do something that will remain in the future and not just to paste on it and then next year we need the same amount of level of investment
And that’s just one major hurdle. Even if the dispute was resolved and the roads paved with gold, farmers still would not be able to deliver. Thanks to Mother Nature’s abundant and incessant blessings, the cane is saturated and quality is not up to standard.
“Farmers would be unable to deliver cane in this point in time, It is no that the cane is not mature, it is just that the amount of water that we have been experiencing since the 23rd of May, the land is very saturated at this point in time and our chemist made some analysis last week whereby only four out of the eighty analysis went a little bit over eighty percent purity.”
BSCFA operates under a memorandum of understanding with BSI which states that cane purity must not be less than eighty-one percent. Because of the rain sucrose content is low, and because farmers are paid based on the quality they deliver, delivering now is not an option.
“It is not good for farmers in this point of time because we are going to be experiencing in the vicinity of fifteen to seventeen cane ton per tons of sugar. Last year when we started the 2012/2013 we started it with a TCTS of 10.561056 which led us to finalize the crop with a 9.13 average which you see we received a very good prize for the last crop. If we should start crop we as cane farmers and we as BSCFA, we need to look forward in the quality of cane we are delivering because it will be very harmful for the farmers. To deliver cane at this quality that we have present at this time, it will really damage the pocket of the cane farmers if we start with this crop that we have.”
Sugar roads and sucrose content aside, there is still the matter of the dispute. December fifteenth was thrown out as a deadline date for resolution, but that will not happen. Ortega says that a more realistic date is January fifteenth. Starting the crop after that point will have grave repercussions for the industry.
“We have experienced in the past that we have started crop in the middle of November and sometime in the middle of December. For the past time when we had extended crop when the mill was not doing so good, we begin crop with rain and we end out crop with rain and that caused us to have a very bad quality of cane for the full crop. So in our case at this point in time where we are. I believe that if we pass more than the 15ht of January and there is nothing resolved then there will be a very negative impact to the sugar industry and mostly to the farmers because that will create a very heavy situation that some of them won’t be able to harvest their cane because of the length of time that will be necessary for the crop to go on. That is why we call on B.S.I. to come to the table to negotiate and finalize this thing so we shouldn’t reach to that point in time where it will do damage not only to us but to the whole industry in a whole.”
Farmers have fingers crossed for a resolution, and for at least fifteen days of sunny weather. Mike Rudon for News Five.