La Zafra Opens To An Uncertain Future

This morning, the new sugar season - known in the north as "La Zafra" -  opened with its usual pomp and ceremony at the BSI's Tower Hill Factory in the Orange Walk. You probably know that last year's season was particularly rough for the cane farmers due to the very low world market prices for sugar that persisted for all of last season.

But the farmers and the millers are deeply invested into the future of the industry, and all involved must hope for a better financial outlook in the near future. 

Our news team travelled north for the opening of the season, and Daniel Ortiz has that story:

These VIP's of the sugar industry threw the first sugar cane stalks on one of the dumping tables at BSI's Tower Hill Factory. 

This was for a ceremonial purpose, and it marked the beginning of the 2018-2019 cane season. The millers are expecting grind as much cane as they did during last year's crop.

Mac MacLachlan - VP, Int'l Relations, ASR Group
"We're anticipating probably a similar amount of cane to last year, which was about 1.26 -  1.27 million tonnes. This factory is now capable of milling 135 million tonnes in crop period. It's wonderful to see the trucks come in - beautiful to have a nice sunny day to start, and we're ready to roll."

Getting ready to roll today meant that the millers had to do some significant servicing of the milling equipment of the factory.

Mac MacLachlan 
"From the perspective of the mill, we have worked diligently over the last 6 months. We've stripped this place down. We have serviced the generators, service the boilers here, and we've done everything in our power to get ready for this auspicious day."

But, the industry stakeholders, especially, the smaller cane farmers, have definitely had to weather financial blow that came with the evening of the playing field. That happened last year when the European Union normalized the market, and did away with Belize's preferential access, at a premium price. The hope is that the all within industry are strong enough to continue surviving these trying times. 

Mac MacLachlan
"We understand it's trying conditions right now because of the very low sugar prices that exist in the world."

Jose Alpuche - CEO, Ministry of Agriculture
"Do we have all the problems solved? Of course not, but we have the environment, a business-like environment, in which they can be resolved."

For Belize, the option for resolving these cripplingly low sugar prices in the European Union continues to be getting market access to the Caribbean.

Mac MacLachlan
"We're looking at opening up a lot more opportunity in the CARICOM market for Caribbean sugar. It's a travesty that at this time, 200,000 tonnes of sugar is imported from outside the region into the CARICOM region. And, it's displacing the opportunity for our sugar, and for other CARICOM nations that produces sugar. So, we're working with the Government, with the sugar associations of the Caribbean. We're looking at how we can ensure that that sugar market is protected for Caribbean producers."

And ASR hopes that their continued multi-million dollar investments to improve the mill  demonstrates their commitment to seeing the country's sugar industry survive, and hopefully thrive in a few years to come.

Mac MacLachlan 
"The big investments we've made in this mill. We have completed our phase 1 investment of 22 million Belize dollars to be able to produce a far higher quantity, over 50 thousand tonnes of direct consumption, higher value sugar. I think it's no exaggeration to say that the Sugar Industry is the lifeblood of the north." 

As you saw last night, the Prime Minister explained the difficulties that the Government and the industry partners are having while they try to get Belize's direct consumption sugars into the CARICOM market. The local authorities are asserting that they will keep up the effort.

Channel 7

2018/2019 Sugar Cane Crop Opens While World Sugar Prices Continue Declining

The mills at the A.S.R./B.S.I. factory at Tower Hill cranked up this morning to give way to the 2018-2018 sugar cane crop.  Production is expected to be in the range of one hundred and forty thousand metric tons for the export market where there is already a surplus of sugar. The millers last year invested more than twenty million dollars to mitigate the impact of the drop in prices. They want to increase production of Direction Consumption Sugar and enter new markets which are posing new challenges. Given the circumstances, there is nervousness among cane farmers who find themselves at a difficult juncture. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Trucks loaded with sweet sugar cane entered the B.S.I. Factory Compound at Tower Hill today, marking the start of the new sugarcane crop season. The production of sugar is a crucial industry in the country but more so for the over five thousand cane farmers in the Orange Walk and Corozal Districts- not to mention their families and companies, farmers conduct business with.

Mac Maclachlan, VP International Relations, ASR/B.S.I.

 “I think it is no exaggeration to say that the sugar industry is the lifeblood in the north. Here is no question about that. Every business, the banks, everybody relies on the commercial opportunity that this business provides.”

But with falling world sugar prices, this business is under dire constraints.

Jose Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Agriculture

“The big question is where would we market in the reduced preferential markets that we have had in the past. I believe that our target has already been established which is the CARICOM Market.”

But according to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, penetrating the CARICOM Market is proving a bit difficult.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“If we can get COTED, the relevant agency of CARICOM, to recommend to heads of government that the common external tariff is applied to the refined sugars which are coming into the region then our plantation white will be substituted for those refined sugars. That is a huge market that will immediately send up the prices for our cane farmers. It has been a tough road to go because the confectioners, the soft drink makers, they don’t want to let go of the imported refined white. Every effort has been made to show them that our plantation white is just as good.”

According to VP of International Relations for A.S.R./B.S.I., Mac Maclachlan tens of millions of dollars have been invested to increase the amount of direct consumption that the factory can produce.

Mac Maclachlan

“This brings out the value to the whole industry and the farmers and shared through the value share agreement. So we put a lot of effort in and it’s wonderful to see the trucks come in. Beautiful to have a nice sunny day to start and we are ready to roll out.”

And so have small cane farmers-roll out that is! Reports indicate that due to the low prices of sugar and cane, local cane farmers are opting to leave the industry in order to avoid the expected loss.

Mac Maclachlan

“The sugar prices and the cane prices are a concern obviously to farmers. What we are trying to do is to run pilot projects to help reduce the production cost of sugarcane such as our mechanized harvesting pilot project. That tends to reduce the actual cost of producing and delivering the cane. We are also pioneering for the third year the sugar cane quality testing in the field. You are looking at what is the best quality cane to bring in at any given time. That helps the farmers to receive better revenue from that cane, really by choosing the right time to harvest it. From the perspective of the mill, we have worked diligently over the past six months. We’ve stripped this place down. We have serviced generators. We have serviced the boilers here and we have done everything in our power to get things ready for this auspicious day.”

Channel 5