A small experiment conducted by Natural Sugars, Thombre’s factory, reveals that only 10-15% of the cane has green stalk, 70-80% is devoid of any green stalk, and 50 % of the cane stand the possibility of revival in the event of rain.
Sugar production in the 2019-20 season is not likely to cross 63 lakh tonne. The Maharashtra Sugar Commissionerate had estimated the output to be 64 lakh tonnne based on a survey by the Western India Sugar Mills Association (WISMA). The delay in monsoon has led to drying up of cane in most parts of the state. Production in the Marathwada region is expected to drop by 55%, and in Solapur the Adsali cane has dried up, WISMA president BB Thombre said. On a daily basis, some 150 trucks of Adsali cane is transported on the Kurudwadi route for use as fodder. A small experiment conducted by Natural Sugars, Thombre’s factory, reveals that only 10-15% of the cane has green stalk, 70-80% is devoid of any green stalk, and 50 % of the cane stand the possibility of revival in the event of rain.
Nearly everything about the cane industry, from the raw material costs to sale of sugar, is controlled by the government. Therefore, millers need to look at alternatives to survive and diversify.
At a meet organised by WISMA and Deccan Sugar Technologists Association (DSTA), he cited the example of Rana Sugars in Punjab, where large-scale production of sugar beet has been taken up. Besides, millers should also consider producing biofuel such as ethanol, he said. In the past five years, the Centre has extended support for ethanol. Of the total requirement of 348 litre ethanol, around 250 litre has already been supplied. Sweet sorghum juice could also be explored as an option, he said, citing the example of Tata Chemicals in Nanded. In a 110-120 days’ season, June-July to October-November could be utilised for ethanol production, and sugar beet crop plantation could be taken up in October, and after four months in February-March the distillery could run on sugar beet. Bio-CNG is another option that could be explored, he said.
Thombre, however, is upset about the kind of treatment meted out to private sugar factories in Maharashtra. “More than 55% of the state’s ethanol production is contributed by the private sector. Maharashtra’s private sector is different from Uttar Pradesh, which is mainly family owned. In Maharashtra, private mills have 10,000 to 15,000 farmer members. Yet when it comes to incentives announced by the Centre, the private sector is deprived of these benefits. The transport subsidy, export subsidy, soft loan subvention, raw sugar subsidy, `500-crore funds for ethanol production — all these benefits do not apply to the private sector and we have to fight for every single benefit,” he said.
Jayprakash Dandegaonkar, chairman, Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation pointed out that the sugar sector was the only sector where the cost of production is Rs 35 per kg and the selling price is fixed at Rs 31 per kg. Maharashtar Sugar Commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad said the usual 110 days of crushing season is likely to be shortened to barely 70 days, and running the industry for 365 days on a profit is a huge challenge.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) is now sounding out warnings that sugar packs should carry warnings on the lines of cigarettes that consumption of sugar is injurious to health. Coca Cola has also issued a statement saying that 23% less sugar will be used in its soft drinks. Sugar barons need to move out of the rut and stop being armchair industrialists merely visiting factories for 10 minutes. Professionalism needs to be brought in since most factories treat sugar sales as a complicated issue,” he said. “Mills have been in existence for over 60 years, and yet the issues are the same — no permanent housing for workers, total absence of women welfare issues, schooling for children,” he said. “Instead of cribbing about UP eating into our markets, millers in Maharashtra should focus on exports, tap markets in the South and look at efficiency and fiscal management,” he added.