URC’s sugar mill to helpCADPI-displaced farmers

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GOKONGWEI-LED Universal Robina Corp. (URC) will purchase as much sugarcane as possible from Batangas planters displaced by the permanent shut down of Central Azucarera Don Pedro Inc. (CADPI), a high-ranking official told the BusinessMirror.

URC Sugar and Renewables (URC-SURE) General Manager Rene Cabati said the firm’s sugar mill in Balayan, Batangas is now ready to accept sugarcane from planters affected by CADPI’s sugar mill closure.

Cabati said URC-SURE Balayan will extend its milling season by a month or until June to accommodate the influx of new sugarcane planters as much as possible. Cabati disclosed that the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) is aware of URC-SURE Balayan’s plan to extend its milling season.

The BusinessMirror earlier reported this week that CADPI, a subsidiary of listed firm Roxas Holdings Inc., has permanently shut down its milling operations, raising concerns from sugar planters on where to mill their canes.

URC-SURE Balayan started its milling season for the current crop year last November 5, based on SRA data. So far, the sugar mill has already produced 13,829 metric tons (MT) of raw sugar.

“It is to our mutual interest that these sugarcanes will all be milled not only for Batangas but also for the country. Especially since our country now needs sugar, we have to convert their sugarcanes into raw sugar or else the [farmers] would suffer it that will not happen,” Cabati said in an exclusive interview.

“Our only wish is that the weather conditions would be supportive of the harvest. Because if it rains again, then the farmers’ harvest would be affected,” he added.

Cabati assured its new sugarcane planter-customers that they will receive “whatever” incentives URC-SURE Balayan has been extending to its existing customers.

URC-SURE Balayan, he added, is currently in talks with planters’ associations to discuss the optimal allocation of the sugar mill’s capacity for the new sugarcane planters of the mill.

The URC-SURE Balayan’s milling capacity is about 5,000 MT of sugarcanes per day.

The URC executive said they plan to improve the firm’s Balayan sugar mill to be able to cater to the Batangas sugarcane planters more efficiently.

“We want the planters to stay motivated in sugarcane farming. It is a good crop, it is a good livelihood,” Cabati said.

“We in the sugar mill are already on the drawing board, studying the expansion of the Balayan sugar mill. It will take time but that is our direction,” Cabati added.

Cabati also disclosed that URC-SURE Balayan will start milling early in the next crop year 2023-2024. Instead of its usual November schedule, it will start milling sugarcane in October to accommodate more planters in anticipation of higher volume of supply.

Agriculture Assistant Secretary Rex Estoperez told the BusinessMirror that the agriculture department is well aware of the challenges confronting CADPI’s displaced sugarcane planters.

Estoperez said he recently met with some sugarcane planters affected by CADPI’s mill closure, who staged a rally in front of the Department of Agriculture, to discuss and address their woes.

According to Estoperez, the instruction of Senior Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban is to extend whatever assistance  the department can give to affected sugarcane planters.

Estoperez said the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has formed a team to determine the possibility of running CADPI’s mill for a few weeks just to serve the remaining sugarcane of the planters.

The other option is to transport the planters’ sugarcane to other mills such as the URC-SURE Balayan and Progreen Agricorp Inc., a distillery.

Estoperez revealed that SRA has committed to assess its funds to be able to extend any possible “assistance” to the affected sugarcane planters. For its part, the DA will provide vegetable seeds to the planters for crop diversification and determine the possibility of granting a solar-powered irrigation system, he added.