The topic of most concern as regards the sugarcane industry today focuses on the speculation of low prices at the end of this year as a result of the increase in sugar amounts worldwide. Owing to the good weather particularly in India and Thailand, the yield per rai has continued to grow since the previous season and is expected to remain positive towards the end of this year. This increase is considered beneficial as it helps farmers earn greater income. However, if the price stays at 700 to 800 baht per ton, an increase in productivity by itself might not be sufficient for sugarcane farmer to make a profit. One significant recommendation is that sugarcane farmer must lower the Cost per ton of cane.
The sugarcane harvester and transport to the sugar factory constitutes the stage with the highest costs at 30-40% of the total cost. Therefore, the main goal for sugarcane farmer to identify how to reduce the costs incurred during this process.
A sugarcane harvester is a great tool to reduce costs as it replaces labour, reduces working time and risk, especially the risk regarding the inability to harvest all the sugarcane within the harvesting season. If there is any sugarcane left in the plantation, that means the cost per cane will rise even more.
As concerns the current source of the sugarcane harvester, this can be divided into three main categories: the main sugarcane farmer owning a sugarcane harvester and using it mainly for personal purposes, sugarcane farmer owning a sugarcane harvester to mainly use as contractors, and a harvester owned by the sugar factory to provide service for sugarcane farmer who are partners of contract.
Those who already own Sugarcane harvesters will not find it difficult to reduce costs; however, those who don’t – who constitute the largest group still reliant on human labour or on hiring a harvester – need to make their plans and calculations at an early stage. There are two guidelines. The first is hiring a harvester. This involves planning and coordination, negotiation with the owner of harvesters, sugar factory or sugarcane quota header manager in order to arrange the corresponding queue for harvesting and finishing harvesting before the end of the season. The second guideline is to purchase a sugarcane harvester. This is necessary to calculate and consider the appropriateness of areas to ensure that there is a sufficient work area for the capability of a sugarcane harvester. For example, if a sugarcane harvester has the ability to cut 10,000 tons of cane per year, it must cut at least 8,000 tons per year. At present, SIAM KUBOTA Corporation Company Limited has developed the sugarcane harvester models SH95, Sugarcane cut remover model SCR100 and Sugarcane leaf remover model SLR110H which attached with 95 horsepower tractors. This suits sugar sugarcane farmer of medium size producing 3,000 to 7,000 tons of cane per year. Both individual or groups of farmers are able to own harvesters more easily and make more use out of them.
Preparation of a cane plot is a significant issue for those who use a harvester – for both the owners and the hirers. If the cane plot is ready for the harvester to work on according to its capacity, it will reduce harvesting time, reduce of loss of cane, reduce of fuel consumption rate, and the wear and tear of the harvester, and will help lower the harvesting cost.
If those responsible for promoting the use of harvesters and the harvest of fresh cane follow the guidelines in adjusting the hiring rate, for example, the hiring price will be reduced for well-prepared plots suitable for the use of harvesters. This will encourage sugarcane farmer to focus on preparing plots for harvesters, allowing the use of harvesters and the harvest of fresh cane in Thailand to expand quicker.
To prepare a plot in the vital phase before the harvest at the end of this year, it is important to find out what hindrances could arise for the use of harvesters such as stumps, stones, and creeping plants, as well as discover what enhances the efficiency of harvesters such as building ditches and combing sugarcane leaves removers. SIAM KUBOTA Corporation Company Limited has developed Tra Chang Sugarcane leaf remover SLR110H [combing machine] to attach to 24-27 horsepower tractors. In addition to strengthening the work efficiency of sugarcane harvesters, this tractor promotes the harvest of fresh and clean sugarcane, helping farmers to gain better prices for their sugarcane.
As regards the long term, it is important to consider the plot plan, plot size, crop spacing, as well as the entire system of the plantation pattern that has to be in line and support each other in every step, starting from soil preparation of the plot to the transport of the sugarcane to factories. If this is carried out successfully, it will lead to the efficient use of harvesters, reduce costs, and increase productivity in the long term sustainably.