The Sugar Council, representing thousands of sugarcane farmers from three planters’ federations, is appealing to the Sugar Regulatory Administration to allow the milling season to start in August, instead of September.
The Sugar Council, in a letter addressed to Acting SRA Administrator Pablo Luis S. Azcona, received by his office on July 20, asked the SRA to continue with the previous practice of commencing milling operations in August.
The letter was signed by Confederation of Sugar Producers’ Associations Inc. (CONFED) president Aurelio Gerardo J. Valderrama Jr., National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP) president Enrique D. Rojas, and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (PANAYFED) president Danilo A. Abelita.
The call for early milling was not raised by the three federations in an earlier meeting with him, Azcona said on Sunday, July 23.
Azcona said only one out of 24 sugar mills in the country is asking to start milling on August 16.
Of the five mills that began milling in August last year, only one is requesting to mill in August while the rest will start in September, he also said.
“The milling is set in September to allow the cane to mature more for a higher yield”, which will benefit the farmers, Azcona said.
“I’m asking them to give me data that milling in August is better than September, because I myself as a planter do not see the advantage,” he added.
The Sugar Council, in its letter to Azcona, said hectares of standing canes are due for harvest in August.
“A year ago, in June 2022, the national government urged us to start milling early. Many sugar farmers supported the call, milling 432,356 tons as reported by SRA. Consequently, the ratoon plants, estimated at 400,000 tons, are now mature, and delaying their harvest to September will cause them to become over-ripe, compromising purity and tonnage,” the Sugar Council leaders said.
They said last year five Negros mills started milling in August, with two mills commencing operations on August 8, in response to the national government’s call to mill the canes early because of the acute sugar shortage.
Now, the producers are looking forward to the start of milling this August, because the canes they planted after their early harvest last year are already ripe for milling, they said.
“The recent Typhoon Dodong, with its torrential rains and strong winds, caused mature canes to lodge. lf left unharvested, the purity and weight of these distressed canes will suffer,” the Sugar Council said.
Farmers fear that any delay in milling will lower the weight and sugar yield of the canes, resulting to lower sugar production and lesser returns for the farmers, they said.
They also cited the need for fresh income by the producers, especially the small farmers, after months of no work in the farm.
Numerous sugar mills stopped milling in April this year, instead of the traditional May up to June, so some sugar farmers have had no income from their farms since April, they said.
“Sugar farmers have already contracted cane cutters, and delaying milling to September will force them to financially support the workers or risk losing them,” the Sugar Council said.
If milling starts on September 1 yet, this will create an overwhelming demand for farm workers, which are already in short supply, and for hauling services of truckers, they said.
Farmers are apprehensive that this unprecedented demand for farm labor and hauling services will give rise to an unhealthy competition, thereby driving up their production costs, they added.*