Punjab farmers attracted to sugarcane cultivation

      Rising demand of sugar and comparatively low production of sugarcane has led to an increase in sugar prices in Punjab and to stabilize the situation, sugar mill owners are now motivating farmers to grow more sugarcane and reap rich rewards. A few years ago, due to irregular payments, majority of farmers had shifted to other crops, and the area covered under sugar cultivation had shrunk from 2.35-lakh hectare during 1996-97 to 1.02-lakh hectare in 2008-09. However, with favorable Government policies and rising Minimum Support Price (MSP) for sugarcane, farmers in the State are now attracted to take up sugarcane cultivation. “Along with sugarcane we can also experiment with growing mustard to get extra benefits. Sugarcane farming is viable, as winter season does not affect it. The farmers quit sugarcane farming because of problems relating to marketing and MSP. The current MSP of sugarcane is Rs.180, which is expected to increase with the considerable rise in sugar prices,” said Naveen Kumar, farmer. “Sugarcane growers will benefit from it. If we grow 100 quintals of sugarcane, there is a proposal of getting a subsidy of Rs.20 per kilogram. At present we get a subsidy of Rs.15 per kilo,” he said. While, Baldev Singh Brar, a farmer and Vice-Chairman of Fazilka Sugar Mill, said: “The price of sugarcane has increased and it is a labour intensive crop in comparison to paddy, wheat and cotton. The yield of sugarcane is ready in 3 to 4 years. If we are able to harvest a yield of about 300-400 quintals, we can get Rs.50,000 to Rs.70,000 at the rate of Rs.190 per quintal. So, it has lots of benefits,” he added. Farmers are also being encouraged to adopt ring or pit plantation to improve yields, and nine existing sugar mills in the State are ready to support them. While, the State Government is thinking of introducing water-saving trench technology, which will help in increasing the yield by around 100-150 quintals per acre. “We had to face problems for two years because of payments. But, now the problem has been solved with the Government’s new policies. We have made all the payments to the farmers. The farmers stopped growing sugarcane, as they were not being paid,” said M L Wadhwa, General Manager of Fazilka Co-Operative Sugar Mill. “But, now the rates of sugar have gone up, so the farmers are paying more attention to sugarcane farming. Our surveyors, Managing Director is working hard with the farmers for better yields,” he added. To increase sugar production in the State, there is a proposal for upgrading sugar mills and increasing the crushing capacity from 16,000 to 42,500 tonnes per day. The total expenditure is estimated to be Rs. 1.73 crores and the matter is up for approval in the cabinet. Besides, the Government is also mulling about reviving sugar mills, which are lying unutilized. The demand of sugar for domestic consumption and exports has been rising and Punjab farmers are getting ready to take the advantage of this fact. Cooperation and better understanding among farmers and sugar mill owners will help Punjab emerge as a major sugar-producing state in the country.

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