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McConnell acquires sugar lands - But unhappy with the deal

Published:Wednesday | January 13, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mark Titus, Business Reporter

Peter McConnell on the Worthy Park Estate in St Catherine. The sugar factory is in the background. - File

Peter McConnell, managing director of Worthy Park Estates, has acquired additional cane lands from Government to increase production, but says his plan for the property is limited by the terms of the lease agreement.

"Yes, we have got Caymanas, but on an unsatisfactory basis in that it's only a one-year lease," said the sugar producer, whose private operation is considered the most efficient in Jamaica.

"The UDC owns Caymanas and they are going to need it for development so they are not prepared to lease it long term."

The lease is renewable annually.

McConnell would not disclose the acreage involved in the deal but said it was sufficient only to say his company got a one-year renewable lease for the Caymanas property in St Catherine, but declined to specify the hectare involved.

The property was only sufficient to yield 25,000 tonnes of cane, he said, whereas he was projecting for an additional 100,000 tonnes.

"What that means from our point of view is that it can do very little to improve the production in the land there, because if I replant a field it takes me five years to get back my money and there is no point in replanting if I am going to be out of there next year," McConnell said.

"At least I get a little cane out of it, so it is better than nothing, but that does not serve my long term problem."

Worthy Park, which has annual capacity of 27,000 tonnes of sugar, is Jamaica's third largest manufacturer of sugar.

Wooing Government

The estate has, for years, been wooing Government in hopes of securing an additional 5,000 acres of land to grow more cane and boost economies of scale.

McConnell's attention has long been centred on the Innswood estate, a 3,500-acre property owned by government, with 2,500 acres under cane.

The Worthy Park head said he had not given up on his hunt for Innswood, saying the failed attempts to sell sugar assets and lands in the St Catherine-Clarendon belt had opened up new opportunity to negotiate a deal.

"Innswood is what would solve my long-term problem and I have written to the powers that be to find out if we can reopen negotiations, now that Eridania is out," he said.

"I am waiting to hear from them."

For the 2009/2010 crop, he is projecting that Worthy Park will produce only 19,000 tonnes of sugar, saying the yield from the crop was impacted by the drought.

"The drought has set us back badly. We have had 46 inches of rain less than we did last year, and we don't irrigate; we rely on rainfall."