More sugar woes: floods may delay crushing season

After the drought, it is floods that may keep sugar prices high for some time to come. Further heavy rains over the sugarcane growing belt of Maharashtra, the country's second biggest sugar producing state after Uttar Pradesh, is expected to affect standing crop, especially if the rains persist for the next three or four days, as the weather department has predicted.

The situation is similar in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh, where recent heavy rains have submerged large cane growing areas. While the standing crop may not be directly affected, as sugarcane can withstand water-logging for a few days, crushing operations are likely to suffer a delay of 10-15 days.

"If the rains persist for about a week, then there could be damage to the standing crop," said Ajit Chowgule, secretary of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation Ltd. He said cane crushing would start only during the third week of October, about 15 days later than usual.

In Maharashtra, oddly enough, crushing can only commence after the ministers' committee on sugarcane, headed by the chief minister, gives its permission. The committee has directed mills to fire boilers only around Diwali (17 October), so that crushing could commence three weeks from then.

However, multi-state mills or units close to the Karnataka border may begin crushing earlier, with prior permission from the committee.

 In Maharashtra and Karnataka, mills generally begin crushing around 20 October, after the labourers who harvest and transport the cane from fields return from their Diwali break. "The starting date could be delayed by eight or 10 days," said Chowgule.