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Sugar Season saw delays due to torrential showers in May-June

The current crop season has faced its challenges, outside of the impasse the sugar industry experienced earlier in 2022. The recent rains associated with the start of Belize’s wet season also put this year’s crop on hold for a few days. ASR’s Mac McLachlan discussed the impact of those showers on the current crop as the season winds down. 

Mac McLachlan, Country Manager ASR Group: “Climate change and just climate in general is the main factor in our industry and will remain so unless we go to irrigation and things like that. But, it’s been a great crop, actually, so far we’ve milled over 920,000 tonnes of sugar cane. At the moment we had to have a short pause in the crop over the last few days because we were deluged with water last week as you all know. I think we had something like 20 centimetres of water in about four days and that’s going to sink the chances of delivering cane. We were receiving more mud and making more mud out of the factory than we were sugar at one point, which is not good for a sugar factory. So we had a short pause, starting again this morning. The investments we made in our BELCOGEN cogeneration Plant in the off crop last year really showed, demonstrated more consistent steam supply this year. We’ve had a much improved grinding rate. We’re putting a second investment in this next off crop into the second boiler and that will improve the situation further. That’s helping to increase the grinding rate and the extraction rate of sugar and therefore in time to shorten the crop and to allow us to, you know, kind of carry on debottlenecking other areas of the mill that are going to improve that further.”

So will the targets for this crop be met? McLachlan explained that while he hopes it can, there have to be greater efforts at forecasting, which includes taking into account weather-related delays even before the crop starts. Here’s how he put it. 

Mac McLachlan, Country Manager ASR Group: “Who knows what the target tonnage is because one thing that is absent in this industry is any realistic production estimate of the cane crop. That’s something that could be very easily remedied with the Sugar Industry Management Information System which is ready to go but for one reason or another has never really been put into effect here that links the amount of cane in the field to how much is coming into the factory. You know, some of these things really are within our grasp and it would be easier to answer a question like that from the outset of the crop if we had that sort of information. As always and as we have done every year since we’ve been here, we make every effort to bring in the cane. We understand and we appreciate the effort that goes into producing that cane and the last thing we want to do is disadvantage anyone but again, the weather always plays a part in that. You know we would have wanted not having to stop for five days but we couldn’t continue. We simply couldn’t. So, hopefully, nice day today and hopefully it’s a nice day up in Orange Walk where we can be milling. There’s a certain role there also for the farmers to make sure that the cane that’s coming in is not, particularly not got a lot of mud with it because if it does it may, it reduces the milling rate and then it causes a problem for everybody. 

Reporter: So a sense of cautious optimism then?

Mac McLachlan, Country Manager ASR Group: “Well, I think it’s been a good crop. Honestly, you know, certainly the mill has performed well this year. I think they’ll perform even better next year. So yeah, look I’m optimistic and we’re grateful to the cane farmers who have brought in some very good quality cane as well this year so as I said, it’s all joined up. You know, farm, factory, logistics, markets, everything is joined up and they all have to be in sync and working together, that’s the important thing.”