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Sugar falls short! - Frome factory produces record low for crop year

Published:Monday | June 13, 2016 | 6:00 AMMark Titus
A section of the Frome Sugar Factory.

Despite spending more than US$100 million to create greater efficiency at Frome Sugar Estate, Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (PCSC) has plunged to a new low after producing a mere 27,507 tonnes of the sweetener at the end of the current crop year.

This is now the Westmoreland-based facility's lowest output in its more than 100-year history, dipping below the 34,000 tonnes it realised in the 2011-12 crop year under former CEO Francis He.

Delroy Armstrong, senior assistant to Hong Han, chairman and acting CEO of the Chinese firm, did not respond to a request for an interview, but according to data from the Sugar Industry Authority daily factory operations report for June 9, Frome, which is one of the largest sugar factories in the Caribbean, used 398,517 tonnes of cane during production, which ended on May 29.

"We should be embarrassed because Belize has only one factory - the same size as Frome - producing over 130,000 tonnes of sugar, far over its capacity, but a factory of similar size in Jamaica is struggling to make 30,000 tonnes ... ," said Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association.

MESSY SITUATION

"The situation is a messy one ... the entire operation is in disarray."

He added: "In fact, this is more than disarray ... such a performance is untenable."

PCSC projected a cautious 40,000 tonnes of sugar from 481,000 tonnes of cane at Frome for the 2015-2016 season but opted out of running its Moneymusk plant this season, a fate Rickards believes Frome might face next year.

"The relationship with farmers and the management is not a good one as there is not an adequate consultative arrangement in place; measures announced are not implemented; and there is a very unsatisfactory administration of the loan programme, which has already affected preparation for next year's crop," he told The Gleaner.

"Illicit cane fires have forced the manufacturer to use the burnt immature cane instead of having timely schedules for reaping the raw material - problems all around."

PCSC, a subsidiary of the Chinese entity COMPLANT International, purchased the Frome, Monymusk, and Bernard Lodge sugar estates in a 2010 divestment deal with the Government, which earned US$9 million for Jamaica. The company invested US$250 million to renovate the factories, with Frome getting the bulk of that amount.

FAILING GRADE

However, several stakeholders, including Peter McConnell, the former managing director of Worthy Park Estate, have given Pan Caribbean Sugar a failing grade for its performance since purchasing the factories in 2009.

"As far as the Chinese operations are concerned, I don't see where they have brought anything new to the table," said McConnell in a recent interview.

"It is disappointing because I was hoping that they were going to bring new technologies and innovations to the table, but I have not seen it yet. In fact, their performances are worse than when the factory was in government hands. Luckily, they have deep pockets."

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com