Maharashtra’s sugar production in 2019-20 crushing season is expected to fall 40% owing to the impact of drought. The area under sugarcane has declined 28.5% while a large quantity of sugarcane has been diverted for use as fodder for cattle.

The total area under cane has declined to around 843,000 hectares for the recently concluded crushing season from 1.16 million hectares in 2018-19 season, said Shekhar Gaikwad, commissioner of sugar (Maharashtra). The highest fall in acreage has been reported from Solapur division, where the area has declined 48.49% to around 127,000 hectares from 247,000 hectares, he said.

Area under cane has declined in the entire Marathwada region as Maharashtra faces one of the most severe droughts ever. For the past several months, sugarcane has been the chief fodder sustaining cattle in the state.

“Considering the diversion of sugarcane for fodder, we expect that 570 lakh (57 million) tonnes of sugarcane will become available for crushing operations, which will give sugar production of 64.41 lakh (6.44 million) tonnes,” said Gaikwad.

The central government had extended support to the industry which was plagued by excess sugar availability and bearish demand for the sweetener. Of the Rs 23,033 crore fair and remunerative price (FRP) payable to farmers, sugar mills from the state have paid Rs 21,604 crore or 94% of the total payable dues.

Sugar mills from the state received Rs 2,559 crore of soft loan, Rs 116.31 crore of subsidy for buffer stock creation, Rs 153.35 crore subsidy for export of sugar and Rs 823.89 crore of revenue from co-generation of electricity from bagasse. “All this help from the government, along with our pressure on the sugar mills by issuing revenue recovery certificates to 77 sugar mills, helped clear cane dues,” said Gaikwad.

This year, the state’s sugar mills for the first time entered into agreements with farmers for staggered payment of the FRP, instead of paying the entire FRP in one instalment within 14 days of cane delivery as mandated by the Sugarcane Control Act (1966). This provision of the Act had caused much distress to farmers and, along with price for cane, supplied fodder for politics in the region.

However, the Act allows exemption from paying the entire FRP within 14 days if there is an agreement between the grower and the sugar producer. “About 31 mills entered into staggered payment contracts with the growers and the number is expected to go up in the next crushing season,” said Gaikwad.

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