Marcella Scarlett, Business Reporter
Cane farmers expect 10% loss of planted crop
Worthy Park and Golden Grove sugar factories can expect production levels to fall by more than 10 per cent because of effects from Hurricane Sandy, says the head of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association (AIJCFA).
"Based on what I am seeing and hearing, I am estimating about a 10 per cent loss in production compared to last year at both St Thomas and Worthy Park," said AIJCFA Chairman Alan Rickards.
"Worthy Park is not a pretty sight. They will have some serious setback in terms of breakage of canes," he said.
Gordon Clarke, director and distillery manager at Worthy Park, said most of the damage was at the Lluidas Vale fields, which is where the majority of the cane delivered to the factory is planted. The estate also plants on lands at Bog Walk and Caymanas Estates.
Clarke said the area was affected by mostly wind, which "does not kill the cane but it will affect the yields".
Peter McConnell, managing director of Worthy Park Estate, said heavy winds affect the root systems of the plants and that the leaves become shattered, which eventually causes the cane to stop growing. Additionally, the canes tend to lie on the ground during such weather events, and since each joint has a growing eye it will grow a new stalk at each eye that touches the soil, McConnell said.
Overall, this will lower the sucrose content of the cane.
"We are estimating that the reduced yield could mean a drop in revenue of over J$160 million as we will make maybe about 2,000 tonnes of sugar less, using the current prices," said Clarke.
"Our cane was growing really nicely and the canes were looking really heavy in the fields and nice, and we thought this was going to be our best year ever in terms of tonnage per acre, but right now we are thinking otherwise. We will have to revise the tonne cane/tonne sugar ratio but it's a little early to do that now, but we know for sure it will take some more sugarcane to make the same amount of sugar. How much more though, we are not sure yet," the distillery manager said.
St Thomas farms hit hard
Rickards said the cane farmers in St Thomas were badly affected by the hurricane, including the farms of Fred M Jones Estate, a minority partner in the Golden Grove Sugar Factory. Seprod is the majority owner.
Rickards said that the water table is high in St Thomas, especially in areas farmed by FM Jones, and that the rains from Sandy would cause the water table to rise even higher.
FM Jones is the biggest supplier of sugar cane to the Golden Grove factory.
Efforts at comment from Seprod Managing Director Byron Thompson and Dr Richard Jones of FM Jones Estate were unsuccessful.
However, Rickards said Golden Grove has already adjusted its projection to start reaping in December and has pushed back the start date for reaping to late January.
Worthy Park will make no adjustment to its reaping; the timetable remains early January, said McConnell.
The cane farmers supplying Appleton Estate in St Elizabeth were also hit by Sandy but not as badly as St Thomas and St Catherine.
"Appleton is prone to flooding, and I am understanding that some flooding happened down there but it was not too devastating," Rickards said.
In other areas such as Trelawny and Westmoreland, the AIJCFA chairman said the rains from Sandy were a "blessing".
"Two extremes," he said. "Sandy was welcome showers for some and for others it was a nightmare. Sandy was welcome in Trelawny as there are not many indications of damage in that area. Yes, some of the older canes got a little shaken up but the rain was good for the most part because they had several very hot and dry months."