AS OF Week Ending February 14, the Gross Ton Canes Milled in the Visayas area amounted to 10.25 million metric tons (mt), representing a nine percent increase compared to the volume of canes milled in the same period last year.

Raw sugar production reached 20.85 million bags or 1.04 million mt, which is also 15 percent higher than the raw sugar produced during the same period last year. LKg/TC improved from 1.98 to 2.06 as of Week Ending February 14.

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Northern Negros mills produced the most sugar at 9.33 million bags, an increase by 9.39 percent compared to the same period last year. Southern Negros mills followed closely with 8.8 million bags, which is 14.2 percent higher than last year’s figure.

Panay mills registered the highest percentage increase of 51.37 percent, from 1.18 million bags to 1.79 million bags. Cebu and Leyte mills combined for 929,320 bags, an increase by 33% from last year’s 698,398 bags.

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In the previous crop year, Visayas production amounted to 1.35 million mt. It accounts for almost 65 percent of the national raw sugar production of 2.1 million mt, based on Philippine Sugar Millers Association figures.

As of February 14, production in the Visayas of 1.04 million mt is already 77 percent of its total production last crop year.

BISCOM and La Carlota are scheduled to cease milling operations by the end of this week. BUSCO and Crystal’s operations reportedly will last only until April. By April, most mills in the country will also cease operations.

Historically, it is the northern Negros mills which are among the last to cease operations. They may stop milling but they continue with their refining operations for a week or two until their boilers run out of bagasse.

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The southern mills are running out of canes. The prolonged dry weather brought about by El Niño is wreaking havoc on the standing crop. The industry might not even reach its 2.127 million mt revised production estimate this crop year.

Domestic withdrawals have spiked while supply slowly tightens as the milling season comes to an end. How come millgate prices are sluggish?

Woe to the marginal farmers who are compelled to sell their quedans every week just to survive. They end up being eaten alive by unscrupulous traders who manipulate sugar prices.

Government should step in to help these thousands of marginal farmers. Government should provide easy access to bridge financing for these farmers.

While it is true that Land Bank and Quedancor has some sort of quedan financing program in place, the documentary requirements and the bureaucratic hassles in availing of these programs make it impossible for small farmers to access these supposedly farmer-friendly financing support.

Quedans are highly negotiable instruments. Why require tons of documentation and month-long delays before providing financing for these marginal farmers? Are the quedans not sufficient collateral?

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Farmers cannot be blamed if they do not have a high regard for government. The food producers often end up losers in the formulation of government policies. Aside from lip service to the agricultural sector, government really has no solid and sustainable program in place to protect Philippine agriculture.

Prudent leaders will be alarmed by the fact that the country, which houses the leading think-tank and scientific team in rice production technology, is the largest rice importer in the world.

Government recommends supposedly high-yielding varieties of rice. However, farmers have to pour in tons of chemical fertilizer bought out of their own pockets just to follow government recommendations to achieve the desired yield. What use is the farmer’s increased yield if his production cost also skyrocketed?

Enter the NFA with their palay buying scheme, supposedly to provide price support. NFA buys a couple of sacks here and there just to have something for their accomplishment report but they don’t buy the bulk of the harvest.

Here come the traders who buy the remaining bulk of the harvest at very low prices. The traders then sell those palay to NFA at higher prices. Don’t be surprised if money changes hands between the traders and the NFA buying officers.

The same neglect which government has inflicted on rice farmers is being suffered by the farmers who grow corn, sugarcane and other crops to feed the Filipino people. How long can the farmers bear this abuse?

(For reactions and suggestions, email bbacaoco@yahoo.com.)