Thus, instead of commencing cane crushing by October end or early November, leading mills in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra — the four big producing states — had said they’d start by the first week of October. The move was aimed to target crushing of the early variety of sugarcane — this normally goes for jaggery and khandsari production, since sugar mills don't operate at this time. The industry estimates jaggery and khandsari units procure around 15 per cent of cane across the country.
However, delay in annual maintenance work has caused over two weeks of extension in new season crushing. “We are estimating production in October at 300,000 to 350,000 tonnes, substantially lower than the commitment given to the government at 800,000 tonnes. Most mills plan to commence crushing in the fourth week of October, against their earlier schedule for the first week. In Maharashtra (second largest producer), the government has announced commencement of crushing from November 1,” said Abinash Verma, director-general, Indian Sugar Mills Association (Isma).
Based on Isma’s earlier assurance of 800,000 tonnes in new season supply in October and nearly four million tonnes of carryover stock, largely in Uttar Pradesh, the central government had allowed only 500,000 tonnes and 300,000 tonnes of raw sugar import to boost its supplies in the drought-hit western and southern Indian deficit states, respectively.
Most mills in UP are now looking to start the crushing season by the last week of October, anticipating a labour shortage ahead of Diwali. With bumper cane availability, the UP government estimates a 10 per cent rise in output this season at 10 million tonnes (mt), a fourth of India’s overall sugar production estimate of 25.1 mt for October 2017-September 2018.
“We plan to start cane crushing for the new season after a couple of days of Diwali, which falls on October 19 this year. By then, labourers would return from Diwali holidays. Still, we are seven to 10 days ahead of the normal schedule in previous years,” said B J Maheshwari, director, Dwarikesh Sugar Industries.
With deficient rain during the previous monsoon, sugar production was 20.29 mt for 2016-17, against the estimated consumption of 23.5 mt.
“Sugar mills in Maharashtra are planning to start the new season from November 1. The delay was aimed to avoid problems in harvesting of cane due to heavy rainfall in September which left fields muddy. Also, actual maturing of cane takes place in October and November. We do not want farmers to harvest pre-matured cane and have lower sugar recovery,” said Sanjiv Babar, managing director, Maharashtra State Federation of Co-operative Sugar Factories.
Sugar production in Maharashtra is estimated to jump this year by 55 per cent to 7.4 mt, from 4.2 mt last year.