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TN farmers fear drastic drop in sugar yield

The dip will result in produce commanding lesser fair price, resulting in a double whammy for ryots

TN farmers fear drastic drop in sugar yield

A sugarcane field in Erode

COIMBATORE: As the sugarcane crushing season has commenced, farmers fear a drastic drop in sugar yield from cane this time around. Perhaps, the sugar recovery rate in Tamil Nadu has been going down over the years due to several factors.

“Sugar yield from cane has come down from above 10 per cent until a few years ago to less than nine per cent now and is going down further due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers. The soil has been losing its natural quality. This is in stark contrast to other major cane producing states like Maharashtra where sugar recovery rate is above 12 per cent because of their soil and conducive climatic conditions,” say farmers.

It is a double whammy for cane farmers in Tamil Nadu. Because of the lowering sugar yield, the farmers in Tamil Nadu command only lesser Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) for their produce.

The aggrieved farmers lamented that FRP for cane has been fixed by the central government in an unscientific manner based on the ratio of sugar yield, which differs in various states. Even as the rate of sugar recovery is dwindling, the central government has been raising its benchmark for FRP over the years.

From an FRP fixed at 8.5 per cent recovery of sugar until a decade ago, it was increased to 9.5 per cent and further to 10.25 per cent since 2021. In simpler terms, the sugar yield should be 112 kg per tonne of cane crushed to achieve a recovery 10.25 per cent. Additionally, the State government has been giving an incentive of Rs 145 per tonne of sugarcane to farmers.

“While the sugar yield from cane in states like Maharashtra and Karnataka is phenomenal, it is below average in Tamil Nadu due to poor soil conditions. Currently, Rs 3,150 per tonne has been fixed by the central government as FRP with a sugar recovery of 10.25 per cent. Farmers from Maharashtra and Karnataka get a higher FRP because of higher sugar content in their cane whereas farmers from Tamil Nadu, where the sugar recovery has been meagre at 8.5 per cent, managed to get only lesser,” said S Nalla Gounder, vice president of Tamil Nadu Sugarcane Farmer’s Association.

To increase sugar yield, farmers demanded that new varieties of cane should be introduced and farmers sensitized towards taking up organic way of cultivation.

Erode is Tamil Nadu’s largest producer of sugarcane, next only to Villupuram district.

The crushing season began before Deepavali and is likely to extend till February.

The cane harvested during the months of November, December, and January is expected to fetch better weight and higher yield of sugar due to favourable climatic conditions.

Sugar mills on verge of closure

Several distressed sugar mills are on the verge of closure in Tamil Nadu.

“The co-operative mills are worst hit due to alleged mismanagement, while private mills have managed to survive as they have concentrated on producing value-added products besides sugar,” say farmers. Apart from extracting sugar, the private mills generate value-added products like molasses, extract ethanol, and also produce electricity.

“But co-operative mills restrict themselves to producing sugar alone, which is non-remunerative. Therefore, they have become sick and as well as uncompetitive,” PK Deivasigamani, president of Tamil Nadu Joint Farmers Movement. Against this backdrop, several co-operative sugar mills are running at a loss and are on the verge of closure.

Of the total 44 mills, more than 20 are co-operative mills, 18 are private and two are public sector undertakings by the central government.

“The co-operative mills have gone into such a sorry state of affairs mainly due to mismanagement of the mills. If there is a shortage of cane, then crushing will end soon in mills,” said S Nalla Gounder, vice president of Tamil Nadu Sugarcane Farmers Association.

As sugar factories did not get adequate quantities of cane, they started to import ‘raw sugar’ in solid blocks from high cane-growing countries to be mixed during the process of making sugar. However, farmers say banning the import of sugar is pivotal to reviving the fortunes of cane farmers in the State. “Tamil Nadu farmers were able to harvest only 40 tonnes of cane per acre, which until a few years ago remained over 80 tonnes per acre.

The yield could drop further this season as the growth of cane is in ruins due to infestation. Also, the farmers have switched over to other crops due to high labour charges for cutting cane. Therefore, there is a possibility of a shortage in cane, which may take a hit on the overall production of sugar,” said S Murugesan, a cane farmer from Erode.

Many farmers have switched over to other crops that help them earn better and to overcome the labour crisis.

V Ashok Kumar
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