The crushing season of sugar mills in Maharashtra has been extended this season, with 884.46 lakh tonnes (lt) of sugarcane crushed to produce 8.845 million tonnes (mt) of sugar till date. This is a significant decrease from last season’s figures of 953.06 lt of sugarcane crushed, producing 9.44 mt of sugar, indicating a prolonged season this year till April end. 

Data provided by the Maharashtra sugar commissioner’s office show that while only eight mills have ceased crushing operations this season, 45 mills had already stopped crushing at the same time last year. The extended season is attributed to a shortage of sugarcane cutters, affecting the mills’ ability to harvest sugarcane efficiently.

Extraction rate

As water scarcity grips many parts of Maharashtra, sugarcane farmers are facing challenges with mills over delayed crop lifting for crushing, fearing an impact on extract rates. The availability of water for irrigation is becoming increasingly severe, leading to concerns among farmers.

This season, Kolhapur and Pune districts have reported the highest extraction rates at 11.36 per cent and 10.28 per cent, respectively. In contrast, Nagpur mills have a lower extract percentage of 5.47 per cent, while Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar mills recorded 8.66 per cent.

In Kolhapur, forty mills have crushed a total of 204.7 1lt of sugarcane which is the highest in the State, while in Nagpur, four private mills have crushed 2.76 lt, lowest in the State.

Water scarcity has forced many regions in Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar and Nagpur to rely on water tankers for drinking purposes, leaving farmers struggling for water to irrigate standing crops.

Mechanical harvesting  

To address the issue of delayed cutting, many mills have deployed harvesters to speed up the process. However, these harvesters are not suitable for small farm areas, leaving small and marginal farmers reliant on traditional sugarcane cutters.

In response, villagers in many districts are coming together to cut sugarcane. In Nanded district, farmers have warned of severe agitation against local sugar mills that are delaying sugarcane cutting.