Low supprt price drives TN farmers away from sugarcane: report

A lower minimum support price mandated by the government has encouraged sugarcane farmers in Tamil Nadu to shift to other crops. The farmers were also enticed by higher prices of turmeric and tapioca, a thickening agent in food, to shift from cane this growing season.

The government has offered a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs1,270 a tonne for sugarcane. With sugarcane farmers required to bear the expenses of harvest and transport it to crushing mills, they get only Rs600-700 per tonne from the MSP, which is not adequate when compared with their annual farm expenditures.

According to a Financial Express report, another major reason for the farmers shunning sugarcane is the growing rift between the farming community and crushing mills. Members of the Tamil Nadu Vivasiyigal Sangm, a farmers' forum, told FE that the harvest of sugarcane is almost always delayed at the behest of the sugar mills. Most often, sugarcane harvest happens after 12 months, when sugar content in the cane has deteriorated. The delayed harvest increases the debt burden of farmers, members complained.

Meanwhile, turmeric and tapioca have emerged as reliable crops in Tamil Nadu, particularly in western and central parts of the state. Sugarcane used to be cultivated on a large scale in these parts.

Tapioca prices have more than doubled to Rs2,000 per 90-kg-bag this year, said J Manjunath, a member of Salem-based Sagoserve, the country's lone government trading exchange for tapioca starch and sago (sabu dana). Earlier, farmers had switched from tapioca to sugarcane, now the trend had been reversed, Manjunath added.

However, according to Reuters, the trade forecasts of a 45 per cent drop in sugar output to 14.7 million tonnes in the crop year to September and this has led to a spurt in domestic sugar prices, making many believe farmers will plant more cane to capitalise on higher prices.