Tamil Nadu sugar industry calls on Center to rework loans in wake of Covid-19

Tamil Nadu’s sugar industry has been hit by lack of labor and transport to harvest cane due to the lockdown, and has urged the central government to restructure its term loans and development fund loans sugar. As drought has hit sugarcane production in recent years, the industry will introduce a new variety of drought-resistant sugarcane next year. The new strain will also have higher recovery and yield than existing varieties.

The industry plans to talk to harvesting machine manufacturers to adjust products for smaller fields, as those available are not suitable. Currently, only five to six of the state’s 40 private and public sector sugar factories are operating, not only due to the Covid-19 lockdown but also due to the lack of cane availability.

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“The season started very late due to the lack of cane. We expect capacity utilization of only 31%, or nearly 700,000 tonnes of sugar. This equates to 6.5 to 7 million tonnes of crushed sugarcane with a recovery of around 9%”. , said Palani G Periasamy, President of South Indian Sugar Mills Association (SISMA), Tamil Nadu.

Some factories are unable to mobilize labor and since it is a labor-intensive industry, this has affected operations. To bring 2,000 to 3,000 tons of cane per day to the mill, each mill needs at least 2,000 to 3,000 field workers. Due to the lack of mobility, the industry is unable to secure enough labor to cut the remaining cane. In addition, plans to intensify sugar cane plantation activities have also been impacted.

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“Even next year, our production capacity may not be as expected. It could be around 50-60% of production this year. Recovery will depend on the lifting of the containment,” he added, asserting that the transport subsidy announced by the government will not be enough either.

Today, it is the mobility of labor from one factory to another that poses a problem. Migrant workers are also not available. Unless there is help on this front, farmers’ interest will also be affected, Periasamy added.

In this situation, most factories will not be able to repay their loans because the service is based on optimal production, which has suffered. For the current sugar season, many factories have also finished crushing as the availability of cane was limited. Most of the crushing usually ends in April, continuing only piecemeal through September.

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Some actors have adapted to mechanical harvesting but have not succeeded due to the small size of the farms. The current machine can harvest 100 to 200 tonnes per day, but is intended for larger fields. The land is not contiguous and transporting the crop to another field is a tedious process. Thus, the average harvest would be around 100 to 150 tons per day, while the needs of the factory could be 2,000 to 3,000 tons on average. The size of the harvester should be reduced and the cost should come down. There should be a fundamental change in design to work on smaller lands, to reduce reliance on manual labor.

The industry has developed a drought resistant, high yielding and high recovery sugarcane variety in collaboration with the Coimbatore Sugarcane Breeding Institute. Experiments are at an advanced stage and commercial production is expected to begin next season. Currently, the yield in Tamil Nadu is around 26-30 tons per acre and the new variety is expected to yield around 40 tons. The recovery is expected to move from the current 8.9-9% to 11-12%.

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