Sugar cane looks better after disappointing season

The 2011/2012 sugar cane season was disappointing, with drought conditions in many rainfed regions extending into the second consecutive year.

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Sugar production decreased by 86 748t. But the prospects for the 2012/2013 season were more promising. “Cane quality has improved this season over the previous year, which has had a positive impact on sucrose yield. However, the sustained wet period at the tail end of the harvesting period has negatively influenced cane quality and hindered harvesting operations,” said David Wayne, Canegrowers’ executive director.

As at September 2012, the 2012/2013 crush stood at 17 949 000t cane and 2 101 000t sugar, already up from the 2011/2012 full-year figures of 1 822 488t sugar from 16 800 277t cane crushed. Wayne said recent rains in most regions
will have a positive impact on the 2013/2014 season, provided sufficient rain also fell during the critical growing period of January to April.

The weather aside, “one can expect an improvement in the crop year-on-year with a return to a more normal crop between 2,2 million tons to 2,3 million tons sugar production in 2013/2014,” said Wayne. Tongaat Hulett CEO Peter Staude said the national transport strike in October 2012, followed by heavy rains, hampered harvesting and led to more cane being carried over to the next season. This could see mills reopening earlier than usual in 2013, to accommodate the increased level of sugar production.

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Staude said increasing sugar cane production and improving quality will help bring down production costs. Tongaat Hulett planted 13 520ha new sugar cane lands in 2011/2012 and aimed to plant a further 11 600ha across the various cane growing areas in 2013. “Unit costs will benefit substantially from increasing volumes and sucrose yields, as milling costs and many of the agricultural costs per hectare are mostly fixed,” said Staude.

Wayne said opportunities for growers lay in forming partnerships with milling companies, and exploring various options for value-adding. There was also potential for renewable energy to be produced from bagasse on a larger scale to contribute towards the country’s energy needs, he said.