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SRA keeps September mill reopening

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SRA chief Pablo Azcona (right) with SRA board member Dave Sanson, who support the reopening of sugar mills on September 1.*GPB photo

The Sugar Regulatory Administration will proceed with the reopening of the milling season by September 1, maintaining that it will result in higher yield and increase in revenue, especially for small sugar farmers, despite calls from farmers and planters to allow them to harvest a month earlier.

This was the response of SRA head Pablo Azcona to letter of the so-called Sugar Council, composed of three sugar federations, National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP), Confederation of Sugar Producers’ Associations Inc., and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, asking to jumpstart the milling season in mid-August.

They contend that delaying to September the harvest of about 400,000 tons of ratoon plants that are now mature, could cause them to become overripe.

Checking SRA records, Azcona said it showed “only one mill has constantly opened ahead of everyone.” This mill would open on August this year, and September the next year, and back to August, which clearly shows that this issue is non-existent, and the opening date is purely “based on competition for cane supply,” he stressed.

Of nine sugar mills in Negros, only one protested the delay, and majority have agreed to the memo, he said.

You know the official start of milling season, which is Sept. 1. Let’s respect that. Because if one opens, everybody opens, Azcona said.

Asked if a sugar mill will defy SRA order, Azcona said “there will be sanctions,” although he is trying to avoid a disagreement with any of stakeholders and sugar mills.

It will not be tolerated, he stressed.

Azcona explained that the September 1 mill reopening is a first in a series of deferment of dates in the next three years, designed to move back to the original October 1 mill opening schedule.

“By 2025, we will be back on track with the hope that our annual production will increase,” he added.

After conducting a simulation based on the August and September production last year, Azcona said the August figures showed 432,000 tons of canes were milled with an average LKG/TC of 1.4 at an average price then of P2,800 per Lkg bag of sugar, or a total of P1.8 billion in revenues.

“The same volume of canes milled a month later, yielded an average LKG/TC of almost 1.7 at an average price then of P3,300 per LKg bag of sugar, or a total of P2.5 billion,” he pointed out.

“It’s a big difference of about P700 million which could have been additional income for our farmers, especially because most, if not all of those who milled in August of last year, were small farmer beneficiaries,” Azcona said.

As to the issue of sugar supply, “we have enough sugar to last us till the reopening of the mills on September 1,” thus, “it was an opportune time to move back the date to increase yield,” the Negrense administrator said.

As to apprehensions of the Sugar Council’s regarding the cash flow of small farmers for the month of August, Azcona said he ordered the SRA to look into the possibility of providing assistance, in food or subsidies to small farmers who will need help.

He added that Dave Sanson, the newly appointed member to the SRA Board representing the planters, has been consulting with small farmers and said they are amenable to moving the date to Sept. 1 if it promises better yield and income for them.

“We want to veer away from dependency on sugar importation and improve our productivity as soon as possible, and if allowing canes to grow longer to have better yield is one solution, then SRA will implement it, bearing in mind the advantages it will give to the small farmers especially,” he added.

Azcona further said that he will meet with sugar millers soon to propose to them to make this deferment “an opportunity for them to leverage themselves to sugar farmers.”

“If mills can provide early assistance to farmers of lieu of assured cane supply when milling starts, then it will also give our farmers an opportunity to choose where to mill based on best offer and best performance, thus a better business sense for mills to improve their capability as well,” Azcona said.

“If we want to be serious in increasing productivity and improving the lives of our sugar farmers, then we should unite as an industry and look at the bigger picture, rather than just our own interests,” he also stressed.*


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September 2023

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