Floods in some parts of the country and Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana have delayed sugarcane crushing in India by more than two weeks. Worse, Maharashtra is likely to face further delays as the fields in the state continue to be inundated.
While mills in major sugarcane growing regions, including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka — these states together account for more than 60 per cent of the country’s cane output — had started to operate after October 15 on different dates, unexpected heavy rainfall in September caused massive flooding in sugarcane belts, damaging crops.
According to industry data, 124 mills had started to operations on an all-India basis by the end of October in 2018. The numbers for the same period in 2017 and 2016 were 75 and 36, respectively.
Maharashtra, where cooperative-sector mills dominate, has faced an additional worry of cruchins delays due to state elections. The decision regarding crushing is traditionally taken by a ministerial committee headed by the chief minister of the state concerned, with such meeting generally taking place in September.
“Due to state elections this year, the meeting did not take place, so the exact date for the start of crushing operations could not be finalised. However, we expect that a decision could be taken in the next couple of days,” National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories Limited (NFCSF) Managing Director Prakash Naiknavare told Business Standard.
He noted that the crushing decision for Maharashtra would be taken keeping in mind the factor of floods, crop damage and crushing in neighbouring Karnataka, since any delay in starting the mills could lead to a diversion of crop to the latter’s mills, further squeezing the already low availability of crop for Maharashtra mills.
Underlining that crushing in the state was unlikely to start before November 15, since water had not yet receded from cane-growing areas, he claimed there were also demands that crushing should ideally start from December 1 in the state.
Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) Secretary-General Abinash Verma said Maharashtra had lower cane production this season, apart from flood-related issues. “Our past experience shows that in seasons of lower productivity, the crushing season is little delayed for harvesting a more matured crop.”
Meanwhile, crushing in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s top sugar producer, is expected to start only after November 10, even as the Yogi Adityanath government was hoping the crushing would start after Diwali, which fell on October 27 this year.
“Labourers, out for Diwali, are likely to return to work in a week’s time. So, the boiler of mills would be fired around November 10, starting with western UP. In the following days, the mills in central and eastern UP would commence operations after November 15,” he informed.
Verma said earlier ISMA projections about cane acreage and production had not factored in late rainfall and flooding this year.
This year, UP cane acreage has fallen nearly 4 per cent to 2.68 million hectares (MH), compared with almost 2.8 MH in the 2018-19 crushing season. This was a result of farmers in some districts shifting to other cash crops.
The biggest reduction in cane acreage was reported in the western UP districts of Mathura, Aligarh and Badaun, where the drop stood at more than 62 per cent, 33 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively. However, some cane-growing districts in UP have also shown an upswing in acreage — Gorakhpur, Deoria, Meerut and Shamli saw an increase of 43 per cent, 18 per cent, 14 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively, in the sown area.
In the 2018-19 season, 119 mills in the state — 94 private, 24 cooperative and one UP State Sugar Corporation Limited (UPSSCL) unit — had participated in crushing operations, and sugar output had stood at 11.8 million tonnes (MT) vis-à-vis a little over 12 mt the previous year.