14ymedio, Havana, 9 January 2018 — The ravages of Hurricane Irma on Cuban agriculture have left a serious impact on the sugar sector that will influence the results of the upcoming harvest. With some 835,000 acres of cane fallen and broken, in addition to another 227,000 flooded, 45% of the sown cane was affected, according to official sources.
The lack of raw material has forced the directors of the state-owned Azcuba Azucarero Group to demand that “not a piece of cane can be lost in the fields,” and to guide the mechanized cutting as close to the ground as possible.
“The objective is to make the most of the cane we have today,” Azcuba’s director of Institutional Communication, Liobel Pérez, told the local press. The entity has not published a forecast for the tons that it expects to produce in this harvest, although the executive admitted that “it is very obvious that the plans will not be achieved.”
Pérez explained that he has directed the operators of the Case brand cane cutting machines, manufactured in Brazil, to cut the cane two centimeters below the surface. The Brazilian combines are used in 60% of the cuts on the Island and have an efficiency superior to the machines assembled in Cuba.
KTP combines, manufactured domestically, harvest 38% of the cane and the macheteros, who cut manually, account for the 2% remaining on the sugar plantations. In both cases, the Azcuba directs that the cane be cut “at ground level” for a higher yield.
When the cane is cut very low, the lower internodes which are very rich in sugar are harvested and that increases the production and the final yield. During the 1970 harvest, when Fidel Castro’s government failed to reach its declared ten million ton goal, one of the slogans was, to cut “Low and in one stroke.”
Perez pointed out that cutting below the ground with the Case combines does not harm the life of the plant in the cane fields, but only “if they have been planted correctly.” In the current sugar harvest, which began last November, a total of 53 sugar mills will participate, of which 30 are up and running with the rest expected to be incorporated throughout this month.
The ravages of the hurricane are not the only obstacles on the way to the harvest that has just begun. In recent years many sugar mills have been dismantled and of the 156 which the country had until the 1980s, now only 61 remain.
The area of fields planted with cane has also been drastically reduced from five million acres to about 1.8 million today. This fall in numbers has meant that the sugar trade now accounts for only 5% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
The sugar industry bottomed out during the 2009-2010 harvest when only 1.1 million tons of the product were produced, the lowest figure in 105 years. Since then the Government has proposed to relaunch the industry and take advantage of the rise in prices in the international market. However, in the last harvest only 85% of the plan was met and the official media had to lower the number of tons harvested, which analysts placed at 1.8 million gross tons of sugar.
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