Poor quality cane a destabilising issue out west
Stakeholders in the Westmoreland sugar belt have identified issues such as illicit cane fires, climactic conditions, and inadequate fertilisation as the main factors that have resulted in the relatively poor quality of sugar cane being produced in the parish.
In addition, Nigel Myrie, a field adviser at the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association, who was among the panellists at a Gleaner Editors' Forum on the status of sugar in Westmoreland, said cane being grown under different conditions in different parts of the island is also a contributory factor.
"All of Jamaica doesn't produce cane under the same environmental conditions, and, therefore, the ultimate quality of cane in Westmoreland and in Worthy Park (Clarendon) is going to be some distance apart," said Myrie. "The conditions for ripening cane in Worthy Park are 'textbook ideal' - dry, cool, and shaded - so the cane is not induced in any way, shape, or form, or any hormone to continue to grow. It is forced to store sugar."
Added the noted cane farmer: "In Westmoreland, we have an inherent problem: drainage. We have a wet area, and the drainage infrastructure, for years, has not been maintained. That is also a part of the lower quality. In fact, the entire drainage system is clogged all the way back to the (Frome Sugar) factory. That needs to be attended to."
Myrie also noted that excess rainfall on Westmoreland's plains was also a hindrance to the application of fertilisers, much of which is continuously swept away by the showers. In addition, he said the malicious lighting of cane fields was also resulting in cane having to be reaped prematurely.
"When you put on fertiliser, a certain amount of that is lost with the rainfall. So quality is a critical component of the environment, and we have to understand that," stated Myrie.
"When farmers in Westmoreland are paid, they are paid on a standard that they cannot achieve because they are paid on a national average for cane quality - that is, percentage sugar in cane. They are at a disadvantage, and that has to be looked at."
Prohibitive fertiliser costs
Westmoreland's custos, the Reverend Hartley Perrin, another of the panellists at the forum, said fertiliser costs have proven prohibitive in recent times and were among the reasons farmers like him had exited the industry.
"There was a time when you produced your cane and you would be entitled to fertiliser and have easy access," said Perrin. "When the Chinese (PanCaribbean Sugar Company) came, you no longer had that benefit. You had to find the money up front to purchase the fertiliser as opposed to the days when it would be withdrawn from your second payment. So if it is that you used to use four bags of fertiliser per acre, now, you decide that you don't have the money, so one nag will have to suffice. So that also has an impact on the quality."