Long Pond facing an uncertain future ... stakeholders at odds over cause
As rumours continue to swirl as to whether or not the Long Pond Sugar Factory, in Trelawny, will be in operation for the 2015-16 crop year, there are conflicting reports about the true status of the factory, which the Government divested in 2010.
Andrew Hussey, chief executive officer (CEO) of Everglades Farms, the owners of the factory, told The Gleaner last week, "we are very concerned about the prospect of very low sugar prices for next crop, hence we are reviewing all options going forward.
"Once our evaluation is complete in about two weeks, we will update more," said Hussey.
However, Allan Rickards, chairman of the All Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association (AIJCFA), has rubbished Hussey's claim and has hinted that the Hussey family-owned operation could be strapped for cash.
"Such a suggestion is disingenuous. The fact is that Everglades have (sic) accumulated a massive debt, to the point that they cannot begin the 2015-2016 season without assistance," said Rickards, who was on his way to a meeting at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to discuss the matter when The Gleaner spoke to him yesterday.
Disaster for farmers, workers
Everglades is supported by 270 independent farmers and employs approximately 800 persons in its operation - 200 at its factories and 600 as field hands. According to Rickards, who heads the Trelawny and St James cane farmers' group, if Long Pond should close, it would be a disaster.
"This would be a disaster for Clark's Town, the hundreds of workers and the farmers who themselves have borrowed money to plant cane for the new crop year," said Rickards. "... But whatever the reasons are, it cannot be for the performance of the factory, because Long Pond was among the most efficient performers for the just-concluded season."
Since 2009, the Hussey family invested approximately J$2 billion to upgrade the 20-tonne capacity facility to international standards, and with the input of leading quality-assurance experts and technologists saw significant improvements in factory's time efficiency and recovery index.
Long Pond's efficiency resulted in the facility being selected as the most improved factory in 2012-2013, then doubling the output of the previous year with 11,230 tonnes of sugar from 123,269 tonnes of cane.