Midlands north sugar factories pull out stops for frosted cane
Images depict the impact of severe frost in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands on sugarcane die-off and the potential loss of revenue for growers who are now racing against the clock to get their damaged crop to the factories.
KwaZulu-Natal Midlands sugarcane growers are now racing against the clock to cut and deliver their frost damaged crop to the region’s mills while carry-over estimates and seedcane shortages raise concerns.
UCL Grower Liaison manager, Friedel Eggers said the mill’s extension officers had advised growers on which fields they should cut first and deliver to the factory following some of the most severe frosts in a decade.
“We divided the frost affected cane into three categories; mild, medium and severe. We then allocated our growers 80% of norm with the 20% spread over the severely affected areas. Our aim is to get the latter through to the mill within three weeks before growers cut their remaining damaged crop. Our mill is crushing exceptionally well which is a massive help at this time,” Friedel said.
SA Canegrowers Senior Manager for the Midlands region, Craig Breetzke said the first moderate frost was experienced in the area on May 28. This was then followed by more severe frosts over the weekend of June 12.
While not all affected growers completed a survey to assess the extent of the damage, it is estimated that in the Midlands North alone, over 80 000 tons were between 1 and 3 frost category levels, while over 110 000 tons were tagged at level 4 and over 114 000 tons at level 5.
“The last time we saw frost damage at these levels was in 2003. With the limited crush capacity at the Midlands mills, as well as the size of the entire Illovo SA Group crop, we are now looking at even more carry-over cane,” Breetzke said.
Chairman of the Noodsberg Mill Group Board, Heinrich Eggers expressed concern at the carry-over estimate saying the ever-growing threat of increased Eldana infestation was also a cause for concern in the area. The region reported zero carry-over cane in the previous season.
“Our Pest and Diseases team have unfortunately been restrained in their work due to the COVID-19 pandemic but regardless they are working tirelessly to identify infested fields that needed to be harvested, treated or destroyed. We are also concerned that we will see a seedcane shortage this coming summer due to the frost damage on UCL’s Harden Heights seedcane nursery,” Eggers said.
At a meeting of the Noodsberg Mill Group Board it was decided while all delivery groups were under pressure as a result of the emergency cane, whether due to the frost, Eldana or fire, the mill would keep a steady through-put of high-quality cane to balance the ratio of good and poor-quality cane.
Eggers urged growers to communicate with each other to arrange “swop-out” arrangements that could be mutually beneficial.
Further, those areas most severely affected by the category 5 frost he said, had been identified and the cane analysed using the South African Sugar Research Institute’s PureEst application. The analysis has guided growers on appropriate topping height to assist in getting the purest cane to the mill.
Eggers said in this way poor-quality cane was identified before it was delivered to the mill and blocked the system.
Further, Illovo Sugar South Africa had diverted 14 086 tons of diversion cane from the Eston region back to the Eston mill and revised, new allocations were now being sent out to growers, he said.