Marcella Scarlett, Business Reporter
Cane farmers are asking for continued financial support to offset some of the cost of transporting their cane to the factory, but the Ministry of Agriculture says the government cannot foot this bill.
It's a turnaround from last year when the Ministry of Agriculture had intervened and subsidised the cost to haul the sugar cane from the hoist located at Prospect to Frome.
Sugar passing through the other hoists was not subsidised.
"The Government of Jamaica does not have the resources to help with the transportation of sugar cane. We just can't afford it. We did it last year but we don't have the resources to do so again," Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke told Wednesday Business.
Since the start of the crop season in December 2012, sugar cane farmers in Westmoreland have been complaining about an additional fee of J$246 per tonne, called a hoist bypass fee, that they are required to pay contractors to haul cane to Frome.
This adds to the J$1,221.72 per tonne that is being charged to transport the cane from the farm to the hoist, according to the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association (AIJCFA).
Allan Rickards, chairman of the AIJCFA, said the farmers need help to cover the J$4.1 million cost of operating the hoist.
Clarke explained that prior to divestment of the state's interest in sugar, farmers in Westmoreland used to transport the sugar cane to certain central locations, called hoists, from where the factory would purchase the sugar cane.
However, during the divestment process, these outposts managed and operated by the Sugar Company of Jamaica were not successfully offloaded as part of the package to Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, the new owners of Frome.
As a result, Clarke said that while the issue of the additional cost is unfortunate, the new owners have the right to require delivery directly to the factory.
"I know the farmers are complaining about the additional cost to take the sugar from the hoist but the government can't do anything about it. I don't know what is going to happen but the government cannot pay to carry the cane. It is an arrangement that have to be sorted out between the farmers and Pan Caribbean," Clarke said.
"When Pan Caribbean can say that they are not taking the cane they have all right because that was not part of the divestment agreement. The farmers are the ones left out. I know they weren't a part of the negotiations either, but Pan Caribbean refuses to take the cane from the hoist ...," he said.
The farmers, meantime, complain that the J$4 million hoist fee is especially burdensome to their operations as the price they fetch per tonne of cane is not attractive.
Rickards said the factories are paying an average of J$2,100 per tonne to the farmers this year, compared to as much as J$5,000 per tonne for the previous crop.
There are farmers, though few, being paid as low as J$1,600 per tonne, while some are paid up to J$3,000 per tonne, he said.
"The cost is a problem because the farmers cannot sustain it ... fuel is expensive, the cost to cut the cane is also high - these cost are just untenable," he said.
"This is the first time in history they have ever been asked to pay to transport the cane from the hoist to the factory, and considerations need to be made about how this is done," Rickards said.