Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Sugar mill, sugar-ill

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

“Sugar is the sociopath of foods, it acts sweet but it is really poison” – Karen Salmansohn

Some sugar mills close earlier than expected. Why do some sugar mills close their milling operations for the year 2023-24 by the end of March or early April?  Well, this is not the first time though that sugar mills close earlier for many reasons.

This year however, compared to previous early closing in the past, showcased an outstanding factor on top of the “usual suspects.” 


The El Niño phenomenon that brought extreme and extended drought to crops does not exclude sugarcane. According to agriculture experts I have engaged on El Niño, its impact on sugarcane is easily recoverable because sugarcane is a grass – a highly resistant grass that can withstand drought. They added that when rain comes sugarcane returns to its good form and substance – meaning that it will increase length and size and its content brings more weight.

For farmers I constantly visit in their communities, as our partners in rural development work , they counter the view of the experts. They argue that for more decades of producing sugarcane this is the longest drought they have experienced and that the quality and volume of sugarcane significantly suffered. Colors of the sugarcane changed, and its growth is almost stunted. Reduction of yield is not lower than 40%, especially in the central and southern part of the province.

Comparatively, the northern production of sugarcane is better than the south because El Niño impact on sugarcane is worse in the south than in the north. Occasional rains needed by the crop visited a large portion of sugarcane plantations in the north, albeit not enough.

This proved to be the main reason for some sugar mills’ earlier closure, but SRA says otherwise. Be that as it may, what is established is there is a lack of sugarcane to mill due to volume reduction. Heat or drought on the other hand, increases sugar content of the sugarcane.


Other reasons claimed by sugar mills for this year are operational and financial concerns. Extending the period of milling with limited or no raw material for milling increases cost of operations that incurs additional expense on labor, materials, and other related supplies integral to the milling process. Not surprising, as early as February the Central Azucarera Don Pedro in Batangas permanently closed for the reason stated. It affected almost a thousand employees, and it is now in a legal duel with its employees.

Other factors identified are the century-old equipment and machineries that can only be maintained but not modernized or improved that decrease output instead of increasing and hastening the milling process.

Also, mill operators or owners prefer to preserve and protect their resources, primarily financial, and the undesirable effects of the market dynamics. The longer the operation the more losses are incurred and the more blatant impact is the un-prevented importation of sugar notwithstanding the so-called “smuggling.” This is the market dynamics the government should have controlled but remains uncontrollable.

The crop condition has worsened due to El Niño, but under ordinary circumstances the quality is one concern of the planters who clamor because of high production inputs, and this has been on-going on a more severe impact since the Ukraine-Russian war.

Finally, big sugar mills in the Philippines are found in Negros such Victorias Milling, Universal Robina and Binalbagan sugar mill. When combined, the output of these sugar mills is tantamount to more than half of the island’s production that when they decide to close earlier the entire operations of a particular milling year is affected.

The need for sugar – its importance to economy, agriculture and the entire food system is very significant that when efforts at improving the sugar industry are considered a misnomer or lackluster as it is today then we can only hope for a miracle that may not happen. Worse, the creeping threats of climate change are getting worse, and more damage is expected to come, then it will be the survival of the fittest.

By the way, year in and year out sugar players – the big ones are constantly at odds with each other over matters that for decades remain unresolved.*


Read Article by date

April 2024

Get your copy of the Visayan Daily Star everyday!

Avail of the FREE 30-day trial.