Sugar millers from Maharashtra are attempting to promote the cultivation of beet for sugar production for the first time. The objective is to ensure that the plant and machinery which lies idle for a better part of the year is effectively utilised and both sugar factories and farmers get an alternate revenue stream.
The effort is spearheaded by Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) which is headed by former union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and Baramati Agro, an agro-based firm owned by his family. VSI has planned to make a detailed presentation before the General Body members of the institute on Saturday to discuss if the project could be taken forward commercially. The idea is not to replace cane with beet but go in for beet sugar production once the cane crushing is complete, top officials of VSI said.
Maharashtra currently has some 101 cooperative and 87 private sugar factories. Earlier, the cane crushing season usually lasted for over eight months from October to May.
However, because of the haste of the millers to ensure better recovery rates, the season has shortened to nearly five months. For the remaining part of the year, the machinery remains idle but the factories have to keep up maintenance and pay up salaries, he said. This could provide an ideal opportunity for millers to utilise their assets as well as earn additional revenues, said Shivajirao Deshmukh, director general, VSI.
Rohit Pawar, chairman, Indian Sugar Mills Association who also owns Baramati Agro, said that his firm has already been working with VSI in this regard. The company has established a small plant with a capacity to process 100 tonne of beet on a daily basis and trials are being conducted on the varieties and soil types required for beet, he said. The company has planted beet on 140 acres. Research is being done on European varieties of beet, he added. Beet is planted in October and harvested in February.
While the Chandigarh-based Rana Sugar has been producing some limited quantities since 2012, Renuka Sugar, headquartered in Mumbai, tried out beet on a limited scale in the past.
According to Pawar, since beet is a short-duration five month crop and requires less water, this could ensure that the plant runs for nearly nine months.
He felt this could be useful for sugar mills in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where capacity utilisation is low and overheads are high because they have a small season. After crushing sugarcane, the mills here can go for beet to improve their capacity utilisation, he pointed out. All that the mills would require is an additional diffuser because cane is crushed and beet is extracted.
The diffuser costs Rs 20-25 crore and the rest of equipment is the same, he said. According to Pawar, this is a concept which is certainly profitable and millers will be able to sell beet sugar if the effort goes well.
Sharad Pawar and Deshmukh visited Europe to check if this could be replicated in Maharashtra. Beet is being cultivated on a pilot basis by Rajaram Bapu Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana and Samrath Sahakari Karkhana.
Brazil is the biggest producer of beet sugar globally. India, Australia, Thailand and Australia primarily produce sugar from cane.