INDIA: Maha cane farmers get better price for fodder than sugar

Published: 06/29/2012, 11:35:19 AM

The fall in sugar production in Maharashtra could surpass the earlier official estimate of a 10% drop as farmers sell off their cane as fodder, according to the Economic Times of India.

The state government is paying an attractive price for fodder to be supplied to cattle camps that will be organised to mitigate distress arising out of drought-like conditions.

The area under cane is expected to decline from 1.022 million ha in 2011/12 to about 800,000 ha in 2012/13 while sugar production is likely to decline from 9 million tonnes to about 8 million tonnes, Maharashtra co-operation minister Harshvardhan Patil recently said.

Sugar mills may expect up to 20% drop in cane supply with farmers diverting cane to cattle camps. "Cane is being diverted on a large scale for use as fodder," said state agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil.

According to IMD, pre-monsoon rainfall during the March-May period was deficient by 65% in Maharashtra.

This has led to a fast decline in groundwater levels. The state has been facing drought-like conditions from the beginning of this year, with the government coming out with relief measures such as cattle camps.

Selling the six-month-old cane crop as fodder is more remunerative for farmers than selling it to mills six months later.

Cane sold as fodder fetches money in the range of INR2,500 (US$44.7) per tonne to INR2,900 per tonne.

The cane being sold as fodder is five to seven months old. This means the farmer saves on input costs he would have incurred had he raised the crop for 13 to 14 months before its harvest. In the current season, cane farmers have received about INR1,800/tonne to INR2,200/tonne from sugar mills.

Just a few days ago, the state government issued orders to keep aside water in reservoirs for drinking purpose. In this case, the condition of the cane crop may worsen if there is no rainfall for the next 15 days. The IMD has forecast a major revival in monsoon after July 5.

"The vegetative growth of cane takes place till August. A good rainfall in the later part may suddenly increase the yield as it had happened two years ago," said another officer of the sugar commissionerate on the condition of anonymity.

Diversion of cane is taking place on a bigger scale in Sangli, Satara and Ahmednagar districts. "Cane may also be diverted from Solapur to neighbouring Satara for use as fodder," said an official of the state sugar commissionerate.

Ahmednagar district has a thriving milk industry which needs fodder on a large scale while Sangli is home to perennially dry regions. "There is a large-scale diversion of cane to fodder.

The yield of the standing cane crop is also likely to come down due to inadequate rainfall. We are expecting a cane shortage of 20% in the 2012/13 crushing season," said Ramchandra Mahuli, managing director, Rajarambapu Patil cooperative mill.