By Erica James-King, Senior Staff Reporter
TIME-LAGS ARE affecting sugar production at Long Pond Sugar factory in Trelawny. The Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) is maintaining that all factors are in place at the factory to maximise production, but is concerned that some farmers are not doing enough to meet their obligations to the factory and their actions have triggered delays in the manufacturing process.
The SCJ, the entity which overseas the operations of government-run sugar factories, is pointing an accusing finger at 'out of cane' problems, as being the bugbear disrupting the normal flow of activities at Long Pond sugar factory.
"What is of interest is that we are losing a lot of time for 'out of cane'. There is not enough cane in the yard to keep the factory running without stopping the mills," laments Livingston Morrison, President and Chief Executive Officer of SCJ and the Trelawny Sugar Company. "(Last week) Monday, for example, the factory was four and a quarter hours 'out of cane'. That means it was out of cane for grinding and had to wait several hours before enough canes were stockpiled in the yard."
The SCJ management is blaming a shortage of cane cutters and the consequential slow rate of harvesting, for contributing to the time lags in sugar production at Long Pond.
"Some farmers are having difficulty getting cane cutters because of the general shortage of cane cutters. A minor factor also leading to the 'out- of-cane' problems is the readiness of the cane," Mr. Livingston outlined to The Gleaner. "The cane from most Hampden farmers who planted late last year, would not be ready before later this month."
The SCJ official is contending that because the delivery of cane to the sugar factory is not steady and consistent, "frequent stoppages due to out of cane processes" is not only causing disruption in the flow of manufacturing operations at Long Pond, but has prompted an escalation in the fuel bill of the sugar factory.
While being tight-lipped about the extent of the expenses incurred in terms of catering to the increased fuel needs of Long Pond, Mr. Livingston outlined some of the energy problems facing the factory: "Stoppages due to 'out of cane' have caused Long Pond to use an excessive amount of Bunker 'C' oil to get the boilers fired, each time we resume production after a stoppage."
The SCJ CEO further stated, "If production was flowing uninterrupted Long Pond could use its bagasse to fuel the boilers."
While maintaining that the progress of its production is significantly smoother than last year, the SCJ and the Trelawny Sugar Company still believe that without the 'out of cane' woes, its manufacturing output would even be at a higher level.
Since crop started in mid-January and up to Ash Wednesday, Long Pond had milled 35,240 tonnes of cane and manufactured 2,821 tonnes of sugar. The plant is aiming to produce in the region of 16, 000 tonnes of sugar from the milling of some 174,000 tonnes of cane, during this crop.
During last year, Long Pond Sugar Factory manufactured a mere 9,800 tonnes of sugar, in what industry officials said was one of the lowest volume produced there in recent times. The management of the entity attributed the low output to electrical troubles at the factory, frequent breakdown of factory equipment and a late start to the crop during 2002.
In a bid to make the factory more efficient, this year the SCJ spent over $40 million to repair and overhaul existing equipment at long pond and purchased new generators.
In the meantime, the Sugar Company of Jamaica is seeking to allay the fears of cane farmers in Trelawny that the Long Pond Sugar Factory does not have the capacity to process the additional cane from Hampden Farmers.
Dispelling claims by the Hampden Cane Farmers Association (HCFA) that Long Pond does not have the ability to manufacture all the canes, Mr. Morrison gave the assurance that, "Hampden farmers need not worry that their canes will not be milled, we have the capacity to take their supplies and we have a team ready to deal with their issues."
According to the SCJ, Long Pond has the capacity to mill some 300,000 tonnes of cane per crop.