Farmers supplying sugarcane to co-operative sugar mills are stuck with nearly 8 lakh tonnes of cane as a strike has crippled operations at the mills.
According to official sources, work at 14 of the 16 co-operative sugar mills has come to stop as over 5,000 workers have gone on strike demanding a wage hike over the last two weeks.
Over 12 lakh tonnes of sugarcane out of the total 45 lakh tonnes to have been crushed by the co-operative mills are yet to be processed.
The State Government has ordered that the sugarcane be sent to private sector sugar mills. Following a meeting, some of the 26 private sector mills have agreed to take over 5 lakh tonnes of sugarcane.
But that still leaves over 8 lakh tonnes untended in the fields. At the current season's sugarcane price of about Rs 2,100 a tonne that is a potential loss of about Rs 168 crore to the farmers.
The State is facing surplus sugarcane production this season with the total estimated output at about 230 lakh tonnes according to State Government estimates.
The private sector mills will crush about 165 lakh tonnes of cane available in their own command areas. They have crushed about 95 lakh tonnes as of March 31.
A sugarcane farmers' representative based in Kallakurichi said that sugar mills and transporters were not keen on handling the cane available elsewhere. Farmers will end up selling at less than market price and paying a heavy price for transport if they have to depend on other sugar mills. The sugarcane price includes Rs 100 transportation cost but farmers will be forced to pay much more, he said.
As the cane dries in the field, weight loss and lower sugar recovery erodes the value of the crop. The sugarcane price is linked to 9.5 per cent sugar recovery and prices go up or down in proportion to the sugar yield.
According to a representative of the Tamil Nadu Co-operative and Public Sector Sugar Mill Workers Federation, workers are set on their demand and are planning a procession on April 24 in Chennai. Since April 5 when the strike started there have been a couple of rounds of discussions with the workers but the State Government is unrelenting.