The story of sugar in the 2016-17 season (October-September) has been about two underestimations. The first has had to do with Maharashtra — not adequately factoring in the impact of the 2015 drought on cane availability for the new season. The Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), on September 28, projected the state’s sugar output for 2016-17 at 62.7 lakh tonnes (lt). Actual production turned out to be just 41.87 lt, a steep drop over the 84.15 lt and 105.14 lt for the preceding two seasons, and the lowest since the 22.33 lt of 2004-05.
The second underestimation has been with regard to Uttar Pradesh (UP), although here it has worked in the reverse. ISMA’s September 28 advance estimates had pegged sugar production this season at 76.60 lt, up from 68.55 lt in 2015-16. But as on April 18, mills in UP had already produced 85.27 lt. With 52 out of the 116 factories still running, the final output could touch 88 lt – an all-time-high, surpassing the previous 2006-07 record of 84.75 lt.
Significantly, the above production achievement hasn’t come due to any increase in sugarcane area. UP’s total area under cane in 2016-17 has, in fact, fallen by almost a quarter compared to 2006-07. Nor has crushing gone up. Mills had till April 18 crushed 805.33 lt of cane and may end up doing about 830 lt. But that would be well below the 894.94 lt crushed in 2006-07.
The higher output by mills is only because of average sugar-to-cane recovery going up, from 9.47 per cent in 2006-07 to a likely 10.6 per cent in the current season. That, in turn, owes itself to Co 0238, a cane variety which gives both higher yields to farmers and also more sugar from every tonne crushed by mills.
From practically zero till 2012-13, Co 0238 is estimated to have covered 7.29 lakh hectares (lh) or 35.5 per cent of UP’s total cane area this season. “Given the higher yields from this variety, its share in overall production and cane crushed by mills will probably exceed 50 per cent,” reckons Vipin Kumar Dwivedi, sugarcane development and sugar industry commissioner of UP.
“My yields were earlier 45 quintals or so per bigha (66 tonnes/hectare). With Co 0238, it is now 55 quintals (80 tonnes/hectare),” says Jitender Hooda, who grows cane in six out of his eight-acre holding at Kheri Bairagi village of Shamli district/tehsil. Co 0238 is also the main reason for UP’s average cane yields rising from hardly 60 tonnes per hectare till only four years ago to 66.5 tonnes in 2015-16. “Since Co 0238’s share in total area was only 19.6 per cent last season, I expect the average to cross 70 tonnes per hectare in 2016-17,” notes Bakshi Ram, director of the Sugarcane Breeding Institute at Coimbatore and breeder of the blockbuster variety.
For mills, the biggest draw of Co 0238 is its ‘early-maturity’ character, defined in terms of sucrose accumulation. This happens faster and reaches optimal levels in Co 0238 at least a month earlier than for normal ‘general’ cane varieties. Mills are, then, able to get high sugar recoveries right from the start of crushing and all through the season. That alone explains the sharp jump in average sugar recovery in UP, from 9.25-9.5 per cent to 10.6 per cent over the last two years.
A one percentage point recovery jump translates into 8.3 lt of extra sugar on the 830 lt of cane that UP mills would be crushing this season. At an average realisation of Rs 36 per kg, it works out to nearly Rs 3,000 crore of additional revenue. In the current season, as many as 27 out of the state’s 116 mills have recorded average recovery of over 11 per cent. That includes the Bundki (12.31 per cent) and Bahadarpur (12.07 per cent) factories of Dwarikesh Sugar Industries, followed by Balrampur Chini Mills’ Kumbhi (11.94 per cent), Uttam Sugar Mills’ Barkatpur (11.91 per cent) and UP Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation’s Sneh Road (11.87 per cent) units. Four out of these top five are in Bijnor district and one (Kumbhi) in Lakhimpur Kheri.
The benefits to farmers via higher cane yields — an average increase of 10 tonnes means extra income of Rs 31,500 per hectare at the state advised price (SAP) of Rs 315 per quintal for early-maturing varieties — have, however, been partly offset by delayed payments from mills. During this sugar season, mills have until now bought Rs 24,717.74 crore worth of cane at the SAP. Out of this, Rs 23,521.10 crore should have been paid not later than 14 days after cane delivery, as per the UP Sugarcane (Regulation of Supply and Purchase) Act, 1953. But mills have actually paid only Rs 19,258.47 crore, corresponding to Rs 4,262.63 crore of arrears.
The ruling BJP, in its UP election manifesto, had promised to ensure farmers received full payment for their cane within 14 days of sale, as provided in the 1953 Act. However, cane arrears, which were around Rs 4,175 crore when the Yogi Adityanath government took over on March 19, have shown no decrease. Much of the current arrears are courtesy a few groups — mainly Bajaj Hindusthan (Rs 2,355.49 crore), U.K. Modi (Rs 412.23 crore), Simbhaoli Sugars (Rs 390.92 crore), Mawana Sugars (Rs 303.25 crore) and Uttam Sugar (Rs 110.44 crore).
“We have given a deadline of April 23 for all mills to clear their pending dues to growers. Once that ends, a review meeting will be held and we will take appropriate action against the defaulters,” UP’s sugarcane development and sugar industry minister Suresh Rana told The Indian Express.