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Sugar prospects sweet - Rickards

Published:Wednesday | February 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMMark Titus
In this file photo a firefighter tries to put out a fire started by cane farmers trying to reap cane.

Western Bureau:

Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association (AIJCFA), says that there are encouraging signs that sugar manufacturers could realise the projection of 100,000 tonnes of sugar for the 2016-2017 crop year.

However, the AIJCFA boss, who is renowned for his trademark frankness, says that he is nonetheless concerned that the positive projection could be harmed by the numerous incidents of cane fires.

"Production has increased over last year, and the weather has been glorious," said Rickards in an interview with The Gleaner on Tuesday, "The projected 100,000 tonnes is on the cards. Just the return of Appleton alone boosted that position, so there are encouraging signs around.

"What we cannot deal with is the human factor and the continuous illicit burning of cane, especially in Frome and Monymusk," Rickards noted. "We cannot have this sort of progress and have people try to derail the effort, so we will have to do some serious community work.

"This has been a longstanding problem at Frome, but we don't have a clue why they would be burning cane in Clarendon," said Rickards. "... and what we noticed is that it has intensified as we get closer to the opening of the factory, and it is very structured and organised, and as cane farmers, we are concerned."

Local experts believe that the projected target is sufficient to supply the local market, satisfy the current US quota, and deal with the Tate and Lyle shortfall from the last crop year.


... Illicit burning scorches industry


Last year, the United Kingdom-based sugar refiner Tate & Lyle agreed to defer a portion of the 48,000 tonnes supply that they were due to get from Jamaica Cane Product Sales (JCPS), which encountered problems and was only able to supply 82,855 tonnes of the contracted 1.12 million tonnes of cane.

However, as Rickards pointed out, illicit cane fires remain the worrisome concern. In Clarendon, cane farmers have lost over 23,000 tonnes of cane to illicit fires in recent weeks; while at Frome, 43,135 tonnes, valued at $260 million, has been destroyed. Of that amount, 10,450 tonnes is farmer's cane (grown by suppliers).

However, despite the challenges, the return of the Appleton Estate, after a one-year hiatus due to a court injunction, should significantly boost the final output as that estate is expected to produce in excess of 30,000 tonnes of the sweetener.

Golden Grove is said to be on the right track and should produce over the 10,000 tonnes projected for the season; while with an already improved cane supply, Worthy Park could be going beyond the the 26,000 tonnes they have targeted.