The 2019-20 sugarcane crushing season for Maharashtra is expected to start late as waterlogged fields across the state will delay harvesting. Bhairavnath B Thombare, president of the West Indian Sugar Mills Association(WISMA) — the umbrella body of private sugar mills in the state — said mills will not be able to start operations before the last week of November — making it the most delayed start to the crushing season ever.
Traditionally, Maharahstra’s cane crushing season starts towards the end of October or early November, after Diwali celebrations. This allows for increase in sucrose content of the cane as October is marked with large diurnal difference. The warm sunny days and the cold nights which follow are conducive for the maturing of the crop. Also, the harvesting labourers start from their home districts in Marathwada and North Maharashtra only after Diwali.
This year, the delayed monsoon has resulted in heavy rains in October with very few sunny days. Towards the end of October, Maharashtra has received very heavy unseasonal rains due to Cyclone Kyarr.
Also, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has warned of another severe cyclonic storm, Maha, which is to hit the state in the first week of November. “At present, the fields are waterlogged and the harvesting labourers will not be able to enter them,” he said.
Harvesting normally starts a fortnight after the rains stop as it gives the crop time to grow and mature. Given the forecasts, Thombare said, the last week of November would be the earliest when mills could start their operations.
The absence of a government is also an impediment to an early start as unlike other states, mills in Maharashtra can start only after a high powered committee chaired by the chief minster takes a decision.
With a question mark hovering over the formation of the next government, the start date is yet to be decided. Maharahstra has reported more than 8.43 lakh hectares of cane and the latest estimates by the cane commissioner’s office has even estimated production of 58.23 lakh tonnes of sugar.
The heavy rains that lashed the state have come as a blessing in disguise for the dying cane crop in Marathwada, which was under severe moisture stress.
“The rains has given the crop a second lease of life and delayed start to the crushing season will increase the sucrose content of the crop,” he said.
If moisture stress was a problem for the crop in Marathwada, severe flooding in September has taken its toll on the crop in the sugar bowl of Sangli and Kolhapur. Floods had severely damaged the crop there and a delayed start, say millers, will help the crop recover from the shock.
MD Joshi, managing director of the Jawahar Shetkari Cooperative Sugar Mill in Hatkanagle taluka of Kolhapur, said the delayed start will help the crop stabilise. “For the last three months, the region has been witnessing torrential rains with little or no respite. A delayed start will be beneficial,” he said. Maharashtra’s recovery will be lower than last year due to the continuous rains in the state.
Mills in Uttar Pradesh have already started their operations this year. India is expected to produce at least 280 lakh tonnes of sugar this season.