ASR/BSI Optimistic About New Cane Season
Now that this dispute over the sugar quota has been addressed satisfactorily to placate the farmers, the factory owners, ASR/BSI, are anxious to get to the business of milling as much of the cane in the fields as possible.
The start of "La Zafra" is usually an event for celebration, but due to the COVID-19 regulations, that tradition had to be shelved this year. Yesterday, when the crop season officially opened, ASR/BSI sent out a release noting that they had been ready to begin as early as December 14th, 2020.
Delays included the weather, and the now-resolved sugar quota issue, but now that the factory is accepting cane, the millers are hoping that the farmers can deliver them at least 5,500 tons of cane per day. The company says that without this, the mill season can be jeopardized.
This morning, we spoke via teleconference with ASR/BSI's Vice-President of International Relations, Mac McLachlan, who is currently away in the UK. Here's what he told us about the need to maintain that steady supply of sugar cane for the milling process to run efficiently:
Mac McLachlan, V.P. International Relations, ASR Group
"A Major concern right now is that the mill has started and it's pretty much standing idle right now waiting for cane supply to arrive and my message to farmers and to those in the industry is let's make this a great crop, let's get our cane in there, lets deliver, let's take advantage of the fact that we've had much better whether this year and therefore there been a rebounding cane supply. It's not going to be anywhere near what it was 2 years ago, but we had a rebounding cane supply. So we are ready to go. We've been ready since the 14th December and as things stand the gates are open. We have insufficient cane supply and the mill needs a certain level of cane supply in order to run efficiently and to run at all. So we need that cane supply, we need it right now and all I will say is that that's straight from the horse's mouth. Farmer's don't need to worry about anything they are hearing about stoppage of crop and the rest of it. Let's just get on with the crop and try and make it the best crop we possibly can. The factory is geared to a certain level of production and that level of production is around utilizing 7,000 tons of sugar cane per day and that brings it to a point where everything is sync, everything is working. It's a little bit like a car motor, you need to be running at a certain level of revs in order to make the whole thing work properly and I think overnight and this morning we've had a total of 2,000 tons of cane. If it gets to a point where there is just isn't enough cane then we have a problem, because not only do we have to stop milling, but in time especially at the beginning of a crop we are not going to have sufficient bagasse to keep that crop operation running and as a result of that we've been urging start of this crop for some time now and for one reason or another it's been delayed. We are now working, we are open, farmers are aware of that, everything's been done, the crop is been properly open. So it's really just a case of everyone mobilizing and making sure they can bring their cane in. They are schedule to grin on average six and a half thousand tons per day across the whole crop. Now that includes the downtime of the factory, so when we are grinding it should be around 7,000 tons of cane. There are some good times where the cane is dryer and it's easier to extract the sugar then we can do a little more than that. During bad times when it's wet when there are issues it may be a little less than that, but the point is that the job of a good sugar factory is to extract as much sugar as it possible can. We never had a crop that we couldn't handle and I suspect the crop this year will be less than our capacity. So we are hoping, obviously we can't predict the weather and we need everyone to play that part. I was pleased to hear Minister Mai suggesting that farmers should stop piling cane. I think that's a very good idea, because when cane is piled it tends to attract more mud which comes into the factory."
In their press release, ASR/BSI notes that the sugar industry supports the livelihoods and wellbeing of approximately 15% of Belizeans. The industry also supplies approximately 15% of the country's electricity needs.