It is a tough time, say sugarcane farmers in the district. With the next harvest cycle around the corner, farmers are facing a shortage of labourers. Many farmers said they have to delay cutting, which would reduce the quality of juice and fetch poor returns.
Sugarcane cultivation is already on the decline in the Dharmapuri district. Sugarcane was cultivated in 7,000 hectares in 2011, but it has come down to around 3000 hectares now. Farmers cite lack of rains and labour shortage for the area coming down.
A farmer from Harur T Chinnasami told TNIE, "After a long time, the rain was sufficient in the past two years, which encouraged us to take up sugarcane cultivation. As it is a once year crop, half my three-acre land was allocated for sugarcane while the rest was for vegetable cultivation. While there is surplus labour to tend to the land and take care of my vegetable farm, very few are willing to cut sugarcane. Those willing are charging exorbitant prices, so I have not cut the canes. Now some of the canes have started flowering, which would lead to lower yield when crushing."
R Muniraj, a farmer from Pappireddipatti, said, "Labourers are hard to find now. Most of the people we employed last year have left for other jobs in Bengaluru, Tiruppur or Hosur. Only a few people continue with agriculture labour work, and they earn between Rs 900 -Rs 1,000 a day. Some ask us to provide tea and food allowances. This is something we cannot afford. Hence we have not yet cut the canes in our fields."
Muniraj, K Ramesh, another farmer from the area, said, "At present, farmers receive a little over Rs 3,000 a tonne from the mills. When transport charges and labourers charges are included, we lose half the money we make."
"So there is little profit that we make. This is one of the reasons we are losing cultivation areas in Dharmapuri. Many farmers are waiting for the opening of the Cooperative Sugarmill in Palacode," he added.
Kumaresan, a sugarcane farmer from Palacode, said, "Harvesting cane could not be done by the elderly and women in the majority of the MGNREGA scheme. They can be used for other agricultural work but not for sugarcane cutting. It needs people with experience."
When contacted, officials in the Agriculture department told TNIE, "Most of the people have completed harvest. We advise farmers not to wait and send cane to the mills. Further, we support farmers by giving them machinery. For the past few months, two machines available with the department are busy with cutting works across the district."
Officials added that farmers willing to rent machines can register themselves.