Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Frome Estate gets over US$100 million upgrades

Published:Saturday | November 22, 2014 | 12:00 AMMark Titus

WESTERN BUREAU:

With a massive injection of over US$100 million to beef up its operations at the Frome Sugar Estate, Westmoreland, Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (PCSC), the Chinese-owned entity, is expecting to see much greater efficiency when the 2014-2015 crop year starts on December 29.

The historic factory, which first started production on January 14, 1939, was originally built at a cost of PS500,000. During the 2009 government divestment initiative, the factory was sold to the Chinese in a lucrative multimillion dollar deal.

However, in the nearly five years since changing hands, the factory's performance has been below par, a factor blamed on outdated equipment, which has been addressed in the current upgrade.

"While I cannot give you Frome's costing (refurbishing figures) by itself, it has got the bulk (over 70 per cent) of the US$160 million spent on upgrading at Frome and Monymusk (which is also owned by the Chinese)," said Delroy Armstrong, senior assistant to Dr Huaixiang Wu, chief executive officer of PCSC. "Plans are afoot for us to spend at least another US$100 million."

In explaining the PCSC expenditure at Frome, Armstrong said while some of the monies went into agriculture, the greater portion was spent on the factory and its new infrastructure.

"Most of the money was for refurbishing our facilities and, even though Frome was not totally rebuilt, significant refurbishing was done," said Armstrong. "... this should result in a more positive output for the coming season and beyond."

Going forward, Armstrong said the operations at Frome will focus on three primary segments, namely steam and power generation, processing, and cane preparation.

energy from steam

"From steam, we intend to produce energy, which will help us to be more energy efficient ... discussions are

also ongoing for us to sell the surplus energy to the national grid," Armstrong said.

With the new investment at Frome, outgoing executive chairman of the Sugar Industry Authority of Jamaica (SIA), Ambassador Derrick Heaven, says he hopes to see a much brighter future for the estate.

"Jamaica needs a facility like Frome to be firing on all cylinders," said Heaven. "The amount of money that the owners are putting in to get it to world-class standard is quite significant and augurs well for not only Westmoreland and Hanover, but for Jamaica."

The Frome Estate has been the lifeline of the Westmoreland economy for over three centuries, leaving an indelible imprint in Jamaica's history, especially with regard to the trade union movement and the protection of workers' rights.

In the 1930s when the preference prices for sugar produced in Jamaica ignited renewed interest in the industry, the British firm, Tate and Lyle, which bought seven small factories in Westmoreland and Hanover, merged with the other factories to create the central Frome factory.