Sugar sector urged to brace for influx of cheaper imports

Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Amid threats of liberalization, the local sugar industry and the government must pull themselves together to beef up production to able to compete should the Philippines open its doors to cheaper imported sugar.

One of the country’s pioneers in agriculture and logistics innovation has proposed a new system that aims to improve the production of sugar.

Delgado Brothers (Delbros) Group, through its sugarcane farm solutions member company Cane Express (CaneX), is making more modern agricultural machinery designed for field conditions in the  Philippines available to local farmers.

Because of inefficient traditional farm practices, labor costs, and lack of financing and infrastructure support, the industry is facing higher production costs for small and large farms compared to neighboring ASEAN countries.

“Farming remains to be the most important yet least certain industry in the Philippines,” Delbros Group managing director Jose Paolo Delgado said.

The country’s economic team has long been lobbying for the open market.  Relaxing the importation of sugar will result in lower prices for consumer goods, they said.

The Sugar Regulatory Administration said sugar supplies  remained steady and that further importation could burden local sugar farmers and millers.

CaneX is now working with sugar planters, associations and mills to support them in modernizing their equipment, practices, and processes.

The company has also introduced cutting-edge modern and reliable harvesters, loaders and new delivery models.

Introducing new tools encourages more advanced farming philosophies to improve competitiveness, one of which is enrolling a portion of land to a cooperative.

Through block farming, the cooperative manages the land for a period of time, allowing small farm owners to compete despite limited capital and technology.

CaneX builds the capacity of local sugar to cope with the adverse effects of climate change by providing more information on the latest farming techniques that will give them a more efficient yield and harvest. The company also supports mills and planters by delivering their products to the market.

The company is targeting to double its current fleet of 15 harvesters and seven loaders in the next two years by investing P90 million in equipment and personnel.

It also sees an opportunity to expand its services from simply harvesting, loading, and hauling to full end-to-end farming, which includes planting, fertilization, cultivation, and farm management services, by 2020.

At present, CaneX is used in farms in Negros, Bukidnon, Cavite and Batangas.

CaneX is the first in the country to deploy 48-feet triple axle intermodal trailers, which employ the company’s “drag and drop” model and can haul multiple loads in one day, efficiently shortening overall delivery time of sugarcane.

Through the Filipino-designed CaneX trucks, mechanized cane harvesters and loaders are expected to cut hauling, harvesting, and loading time, allowing farmers to focus on growing crops.

The new technology targets to lower production and labor costs as well as help local farmers properly assess competitive prices for their products.

CaneX trucks allow three to four trips with bigger loads for hauling, as opposed to the current process that is limited to two trips a day.

Compared to traditional farming that takes 10 people three to four days to harvest one hectare of land, mechanized harvesters can cut 1.2 hectares per day.

Manual loading usually takes up to four hours to fill a 10-wheeler truck, while mechanized loaders cut the process to just 50 minutes.

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