All stakeholders in the Belize Sugar Cane Industry recognize that harvesting efficiency needs to improve as a way to make this business sector more competitive and sustainable. This requires a collective effort, with new and innovative approaches to maximize productivity. This will only be achieved with team work, collaboration, and under the review of a task force of interested parties.
The sugar industry of Belize has traditionally relied almost exclusively on hand cut harvesting. This has been a proven and reliable system over the years, bringing employment and prosperity to the area. However, there are a number of challenges moving forward. The total labour force available for manual harvesting has decreased at the same time that it fluctuates during the season. Over the years cane cutting costs have increased reducing net income to farmers. Shortage of local cutters has forced some growers to seek immigrant labor sources, however this alternative adds additional stress and cost to an already struggling social economical system.
With this in mind, a project under the title of, “Monitoring and Improving Quality to Prepare for Expansion of Mechanical Harvesting” was developed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of mechanical harvesting and to come up with best management practices suitable that will improve cane quality throughout the Belizean Sugar Industry.
Field visits of BSI’s chopper harvest operations were organized for leaders of the associations to become familiar with the project and move forward with the mechanical cane harvesting discussion for the Strategic Development Plan. All associations agreed to nominate a member to the task force and the first meeting was held on Tuesday February 10th, 2015. Representatives from the Progressive Sugar Cane Producers Association, Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association, Sugar Industry Research & Development Institute, Sugar Cane Production Committee and BSI were present for the meeting.
Mr. Modesto Ulloa, Agriculture Consultant for ASR, presented a monitoring protocol for cane quality and extraneous matter to address recording practices in the field. The agriculture research team at BSI, along with the quality personnel from SCPC, will be responsible to conduct sampling 4 times a week and issue the results. These results will be compiled, reviewed and shared with the task force at monthly meetings.
Task force members agreed to conduct a task force field visit to see the monitoring protocol in effect and schedule dates throughout the year for additional farmers to see the mechanical operations. All agreed that this project is important for the future of the Sugar Industry and pledged full participation and support since they are aware that it will contribute to the Strategic Development Plan and bring benefits to all stakeholders in the Sugar Industry of Belize.