Skeldon takes 72% more cane to produce a ton of sugar than Albion and Blairmont

Dear Editor,
When a sugar factory runs out of cane the factory operations don’t just stop, notwithstanding the fact that no more cane is being ground, and therefore no more bagasse is being produced. The factory must continue to operate until all the juice in the system has been clarified, boiled and centrifuged to produce sugar, then the factory can stop operating. This operation is very power intensive, so whatever little bagasse is accumulated during the actual grinding operation is used up; typically this can get so bad that factories which stop and start frequently must buy wallaba wood to restart when cane is finally available.

During the second crop of 2011 the following were the times the working factories in Guyana were out of cane and could not grind. The second crop was of duration of approximately 25 weeks, ie, 25 x 160 hours a week (there are 168 hours in a week but we usually deduct 8 hours per week to do weekend maintenance). Hence the second crop of 2011 consisted of 25 weeks x160 hours or 4000 grinding hours. Of those grinding hours, here is a recap of how many times the Guyana factories stood idle because they were out of cane:
Skeldon- 857.08 hours; Albion – 779.85 hours; Rose Hall – 597.77 hours; Blairmont – 298 hours; Enmore 829.09 hours; Wales 818 hours; Uitvlugt 2532 hours.

This is a lot of time to be out of cane, and confirms our suspicion that the industry is losing its labour force, specifically its cane-cutting force. Especially Uitvlugt.

This comes as a surprise to me since I would have bet that Skeldon would have recorded the largest out-of-cane figures given their special circumstances of poor mechanisation and shortage of hand labour to supply the cane to the factory. But in using this data we have to bear in mind that the Skeldon mill is not operating as a 350 tonne per hour installation as it was designed for, it is being forced to operate as a 197 tonne per hour mill. Albion operated just below this amount at 168 tons per hour for the entire duration of the second crop 2011; it ground 11% less cane than Skeldon but produced 64% more sugar. What follows is probably the consequence of operating a 350 ton an hour mill at 197 tons per hour.

Skeldon’s average tons of cane to make a ton of sugar was an unbelievable 19.72 TC/TS; Albion was 11.47 TC/TS; Rose Hall 12.73 TC/TS; Blairmont 11.45 TC/TS; Enmore 14.65 TC/TS; Wales 13.32 TC/TS and Uitvlugt 14.58 TC/TS. Skeldon led the industry by a long shot taking over 72% more cane to produce a ton of sugar than Albion and Blairmont.
But even with Skeldon’s dismal performance the Berbice estates did better than the Demerara estates with an average of 13.44 TC/TS in Berbice compared to 14.18 TC/TS in Demerara.

But the answer is not only in the poor quality of the Skeldon cane; for example, the sugar [pol] in the Skeldon cane was 8.59 % and they took 19.72 tons of cane to make one ton of sugar [TC/TS] for the entire second crop of 2011, the highest in the industry. Enmore’s pol in cane was 8.62%, almost the same poor quality, but their TC/TS was 14.65. Albion and Blairmont’s pol in cane was 10.5 and 10.89, ie,. much higher. So something else is wrong at Skeldon and the answer is in the factory’s performance, since there are numerous and ruinous losses operating there.
The mixed juice purity at Skeldon was the lowest in the industry at 77.12 %. The final molasses purity was the highest in the industry at 40.56; the industry average was 36.82, so a lot of sugar is escaping in the molasses.

The undetermined loss of sugar in the manufacturing process at Skeldon is frightening; it is 7.65%, when Albion, for example, was 1.38%.
The boiling house recovery is also frightening at 63.13% compared to the industry average (with several factories not working properly) of 81.12%. The overall recovery of the Skeldon factory throughout the entire second crop of 2011 was 57.7%; the industry average was 74.47%.

A factory which performs like this cannot possibly attract farmers, since they would be wasting their cane on a factory which is passing its sugar out in the molasses, has a completely unacceptable undetermined loss index, and a boiling house efficiency which is the worst in the industry.

The mill extraction was low at 91.4. Albion for example extracted 94.49 and the industry’s average was 91.77.  I have been saying that the Guyana mills have been suffering from poor maintenance and here it is finally being manifested. Albion and Blairmont are the only two mills which are performing at any level of international competitiveness.

In my commentary last year I told the public that in 2008 new strategic plan for the corporation called for the expenditure of $5.6 billion; by 2008 it was slashed to 2.43 billion, with this note from the budget committee of the corporation: “the $G 5.6 B planned expenditure to below half of this quantity will significantly restrict management’s ability to achieve its objectives outlined within the strategic plan.  The necessity for the expenditure of funds to complete the Skeldon project SSMP peripheral projects will further reduce fund availability by G$ 470 million.” So this corporation to protect their glowing white elephant at Skeldon was butchering the rest of the industry and it is beginning to show.

Finally, Editor, recent media disclosures by the EU ambassador tells us that to buffer the withdrawal of the EU’s preferential price on sugar the EU has given Guyana $20 billion between 2006 to 2011 to make the local industry more efficient or to diversify to some other less ruinous crop/operation. To the best of our knowledge none of this money was given to GuySuCo and there should be a commission of enquiry to find out why it was not given leaving the industry bankrupt today with a total net debt to creditors, and overdrafts of $6.8 billion, according to a recent disclosure by Chairman Bhim.

Editor, former Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud has a lot of explaining to do.

Yours faithfully,
Tony Vieira