La Zafra On Sudden Pause
A week ago, we told you about the uneasy start of the 2020-2021 sugar crop season. Day one of this new milling season was December 28th. It should have started 2 weeks earlier, but due to heavy rains last month, the season had to be delayed.
And, very early into the new season, millers, ASR/BSI, stressed to the farmers that the mill needed a minimum of 5,500 tonnes of cane per day to operate efficiently. Anything less than that would start to jeopardize the mill season. The company implored farmers to do their best to meet this minimum quota, but viewers will remember that transition tremors at the SCPC started to negatively impact the efficient management of the crop.
4 employees, who were important in ensuring a steady and orderly flow cane trucks in the cue, suddenly resigned. And then, there are transport problems created by the terrible conditions of the sugar roads. As we told you, those roads are in bad shape, which makes transporting the cane to the mill a big challenge.
Today, only 8 days into the new season, ASR/BSI announced that the stakeholders have jointly agreed to a temporary pause in the crop season. In an extended, teleconference briefing, ASR's Mac McLachlan told the press that these combined problems have forced them to make this difficult decision. Here's how he explained it to us this afternoon:
Malcolm (Mac) McLachlan - V.P. International Relations, ASR Group
"The weather has played a major part, I think, in bringing us to the position we're in. From the mill's perspective, what I'll say is - and I think I said it last time I spoke to you - we require a certain throughput of cane to maintain an efficient mill, and not even an efficient mill, to really manage the milling process. In general, that minimum amount that we really needed is 5 and a half thousand tonnes of cane a day. Now, since we started this crop, for a whole range of different reasons, we've been unable to get to that point. For example, in the first 8 days of the crop, where we had that 5 and a half thousand tonnes operational requirement, should have been about 44 thousand of cane. But, we only received 34,600 tonnes of cane."
"Now, there comes a point where that leads to a number of problems, one, the mill has to keep stopping and starting because it just can't handle the low throughput. And so, unlike these modern cars and vehicles that stop at the traffic light, and the engine goes off, and then, you put your foot on the accelerator, and it starts again, unfortunately, the mill is not like that. You've got to keep that thing running and serviced in order for it to operate properly. It's impossible really to keep stopping and starting all the time. The second point, again, link to the weather and also linked to the coordination of deliveries. There's been a certain amount of impurities coming in with the cane, increasingly so. As it rains, [there's] more mud and other things that the mill needs to manage, in addition to just the cane supply. And finally, the other issue is that at the end of the process, bagasse is left behind, and that's used to basically keep the boilers burning. And you need to have a kind of ratio of that to manage the crop as you move forward. And, if things fall down to a point, as they did so on day 8, where the mill requirement was 6,500 tonnes, and we received 2,400, then something has to give in the end."
"Now, the big problem we and the farmers have is that we just don't know what's gonna happen with the weather. Clearly, we've had a rain event over the last weekend, which was pretty heavy. That caused a lot of problems for farmers. That's linked to the problems that we are currently experiencing and they are experiencing with the sugar roads, which obviously have been dealt a number of heavy weather instances, that have caused problems, and genuine difficulty in getting the cane out. And thirdly, I think the coordination of the crop is really not been optimal so far, this crop. And, there have been issues where cane trucks have been loaded, could have come in, but were told that it's not their time or something, and they haven't come."
Currently, the mill is in the process of stockpiling approximately 8,000 tonnes of cane which have already been burnt for delivery. That amount came from a consensus between millers, the Sugar Industries Control Board, the Sugar Cane Production Committee, and the cane farming associations.
After that amount is milled, the short pause will take effect, and the stakeholders will decide among themselves when the season should resume in earnest. Until that date, the millers are asking farmers not to burn any more cane.