Bitter harvest: Sugarcane farmers make distress sale

With no rain or water in canals, they’re struggling to save standing crop

Published: 26th June 2019 05:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th June 2019 05:37 AM   |  A+A-

A farmer works at his sugarcane field in Mandya | Udayshankar S

Express News Service

MYSURU: the vicious cycle of poor rains, delayed payments by sugar factories and falling prices is playing back all over again, pushing sugarcane farmers into distress sale of standing crop. Adding to their problem is that water from the Krishnaraja Sagar dam in Mandya district has not been released to the irrigation canals for months now.

The drought-like conditions that have prevailed has led to drying up of standing sugarcane crop in thousands of acres in Mandya district. Fearing that sugarcane prices may crash further and there will be no takers if the crop dries up, cane growers are selling their produce to jaggery-making units at just Rs 1,400 to 1,600 per ton.

Last year, the state government had fixed the minimum support price at Rs 2,650 per ton. Economist Prof Basavaraju noted that Mandya district, which had witnessed a series of farmers’ suicides in recent years, was on the path of recovery after copious rains last year. But lack of rains this year could push the farmers into deep trouble again, leading to fresh socio-economic problems. With no water from KRS, farmers are losing hope of saving their standing crop and are making a distress sale so that they can recover whatever little they can, he observed.

An official with the Department of Agriculture, who did not want to be named, pointed out that the area under sugar cultivation in Mandya district is the highest this year following good rains last season. The farmers can be bailed out if government sugar factories start crushing the cane, he felt.

“I have spent Rs 70,000 to cultivate sugarcane in 1.5 acres. I would have hit a jackpot if the irrigation department had given us one watering as I would have harvested 65-70 tons per acre. With no water, I will be lucky if I get 45 tons of cane per acre,” rued Shivu of Srinivasa Agrahara village. “I don’t want to take any chances and that’s why I am selling my produce for Rs 1,400 per ton to a nearby jaggery unit,” he says.

The cane suppliers are given an advance payment by the jaggery-making units and the rest is paid only after about a month. But the growers would rather take their chances. The farmers are also upset with the government over the closure of the Pandavapura and MySugar factories. “If there are no good rains and if we cannot harvest the crop, we may just have to set fire to it,” they say in exasperation.

Sreenath, another farmer, said he has set up jaggery unit himself as he can get anywhere between Rs 2,800 and Rs 3,000 per quintal of jaggery. He said they have stopped accepting cane from other farmers even though they are ready to give it at Rs 1,200 per ton.

Harvesting cane along with father Rajanna on their land, Madhu said they are not happy with the prevailing prices and have decided to set up their own jaggery unit as they can make some profits rather than suffer huge losses if the crop withers away.

He said the state government should have shown some political will and commissioned crushing of cane in government-owned sugar factories.“What will thousands of farmers do with the cane if the government fails to reopen sugar factories?” he asked.

Shivanna, from Chinnakanahalli, said he is ready to give away his produce even for Rs 1,300 per ton as he fears that no one will buy it if the crop dries up. “To whom do we narrate out plight? No is ready to hear us out after the elections,” he pointed out.

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