Monymusk facing uncertain future
Despite its expressed reluctance to get back into the management of sugar factories, the Government might have no choice for the 2018 crop, as the operators of the Monymusk Sugar Factory in Clarendon have made it clear they will not start the broilers for that year.
The Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company recently advised stakeholders that it has no intention to take back operation of the Lionel Town-based facility come 2018.
Pan Caribbean has reportedly indicated that the factory will operate only if a joint venture partner or buyer is identified in the coming weeks.
"The Chinese have said it quite clearly. They have written to me and I know of other stakeholders who would have been advised by letter that they will not operate Monymusk for 2018," Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association, told The Sunday Gleaner.
Farmers in limbo
Approximately 30 cane farmers who have a one-year lease arrangement with Pan Caribbean could be left in the cold if the factory is not operated next year, and Rickards is hopeful that a negotiated settlement can be reached.
"This means those farmers would know that they could have the land for one more year. We are anxious that they should get some indication very soon, so that they have some security to go about securing financing for the next crop," said Rickards,
"We expect that the agriculture minister (Karl Samuda) is going to say something about that very shortly, so my message to the farmers is to hold strain," added Rickards.
Late last week, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, Donovan Stanberry, confirmed that the Government has been told by Pan Caribbean that it does not intend to operate the factory in 2018.
According to Stanberry, Pan Caribbean has indicated that despite this decision it is not handing back the asset which it bought from the Government in 2009.
Stanberry said Samuda will have to travel to China to discuss the matter at the highest level.
Priority for this year
Pan Caribbean has already indicated that its priority for this crop year is to ensure a successful season at the Frome Sugar Estate in Westmoreland, despite carrying out some repair work at Monymusk.
Experts from China are reportedly fine-tuning the new power boilers at Moneymusk for the belated March 1 start of the 2016-17 crop.
The company has projected that Monymusk will produce 14,000 to 16,000 tonnes of sugar this crop year from approximately 170,000 tonnes of cane.
Pan Caribbean invested more than US$260 million to renovate the factories and fields at Frome and Monymusk after becoming Jamaica's largest sugar manufacturer following its US$9-million divestment deal with the Government.
The company reportedly took a $7.3-billion hit to its bottom line by 2015, mainly because of a $5.5-billion impairment loss at Monymusk.