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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, June 6) – Fiji’s 2007 crushing season got off to a shaky start with the largest sugar mill announcing a delay because of the shortage in cane supply.

The management of Lautoka Mill was forced to delay crushing as farmers failed to supply the required tonnage for crushing operations. Mill general manager Ali Ubadutt said the required tonnage to commence crushing was 6400 tonnes.

Mr Ubadutt said under the Sugar Master Award, operations could begin once they received 65 per cent of the required tonnage.

At 2 p.m. yesterday, the scheduled time to begin crush, they still had not been supplied with 4,000 tonnes of cane.

He said crushing was delayed and he could not specify the time they would begin operations.

"I really cannot give a time but it could start once we receive the required tonnage and are assured of a continuous supply," he said. "We are working closely with stakeholders to see the mill receives a continuous supply of cane so we can start soon."

Mr Ubadutt said they reduced their crush target to 960,000 tonnes from a million tonnes during last season.

Mr Ubadutt said it was vital that all farmers harvested green cane and meet their daily quotas to ensure a smooth season.

Sugar Cane Growers Council chairman Jain Kumar confirmed the delay in crushing saying they were doing everything to make sure cane was supplied to the mill on time.

Fiji Kisan Sangh general secretary Kallu Dhani Ram said they were concerned about the lack of supply and urged all farmers to make every effort to supply cane to the mill.

Mr Ram said some farmers could be facing difficulties because of poor access roads and arrangements for cane cutters.

The Rarawai Mill got off to a good start crushing more than 5000 tonnes on its first day of operations.

Mill general manager, Mikaele Biukoto said they experienced a few teething problems.

Mr Biukoto said engineers were working on the problem and it should be resolved over the next few days.

Mr Biukoto said crushing would continue as they continue to receive good supply of cane.

Numerous attempts to contact Penang Mill general manager, Ilaitia Koroiciri yesterday were unsuccessful.

In Labasa, crushing was halted because of electrical problems and it would resume once the problems had been fixed.

Labasa mill general manager Bhan Singh said they started crushing at 11am yesterday but they stopped before midday because there was something wrong with the electrical poles.

"There was some minor problems at the mill that we are looking at it and crushing will start again once we have looked into the problem," he said.

The Sangh has also called on farmers to harvest and supply green cane to the mills.

The Sangh called for a green harvest to avoid the millions of dollars in deductions sustained every season by farmers as a result of supplying burnt cane to the four mills.

Mr Ram said every season, farmers lost out on millions of dollars of valuable income to burnt cane penalties levied by the Fiji Sugar Corporation.

Mr Ram said exorbitant deductions by FSC severely affected the income earned by farmers during a season.

He said apart from avoiding the significant amount of losses, the supply of green cane would improve the quality of sugar produced for the local and export markets.

"If farmers make a genuine effort to harvest and supply fresh green cane to the mills, then such exorbitant deductions would not be made by the corporation."

"Considering the decline in sugar prices due to changes by the European Union, farmers cannot afford to burn their cane and deliver it to the mills," he said.

Mr Ram said during last season, for Drasa Sector in Lautoka alone, a total of 64,286.21 tonnes of burnt cane was supplied to the Lautoka Mill.

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