According to farmers from the Penang Mill area the mill has not run consistently for more than 7 hours at any one time since it began crushing. Its down time has been more than its operating hours so far.
The Fiji Sugar Corporation no longer publishes weekly crush figures and sugar make by each of its mills separately. This is believed to be deliberately done to hide the true picture from the farmers and the public at large.
The frequent mill breakdowns mean disruptions to harvest, creating serious problems for growers. Unscheduled stops to harvesting are costing financial loss to the growers who have to feed and house cutters even though cane is not being cut. Or cutters are simply leaving because there is no harvesting. FSC’s already battered bottom line also suffers as a consequence.
Labasa has experienced similar milling problems this season. It has been established that all mills are crushing below capacity.
“”If the present trend continues, sugar make will be significantly reduced,” said NFU President Surendra Lal.
“As it is, FSC’s forecast of 240,000 tonnes of sugar from 2.2 million tonnes of cane this season is far-fetched. Taking account of
• the prevailing drought conditions
• labour shortage in the fields
• frequent mill breakdowns
• dispute with lorry operators over billeted cane
A more realistic outcome would be 190,000 tonnes of sugar from 1.7 million tonnes of cane,” Mr Lal said. This could be further reduced if the drought continues to the end of the year, as predicted by the weather office.