By Atthasit Buntham, Suphan Buri Field Crop Research Center, Research Institute on Field Crops and Renewable Energy Plants, Department of Agriculture
Due to the low price of the world sugar and the Thai Baht appreciation, the sugarcane’s price in Thailand has dropped for 2 years.
Due to the low price of the world sugar and the Thai Baht appreciation, the sugarcane’s price in Thailand has dropped for 2 years. The major income affecting sugarcane’s price relies on sugar export whereas production cost of sugarcane is becoming higher, especially labor and transport expenses. Also, present climate change results in drought in some provinces of Thailand, namely Lop Buri, Nakhon Ratchasima and Phetchabun. Sugarcane grown in some areas become too small besides damages by increasing pests and diseases.
The only survival for sugarcane farmers in the country is adaptation and adjustment. They should begin with planting sugarcane in an appropriate area with convenient location not far from a sugar factory. It is prohibited growing it in salty soil. Besides, a sugarcane farm should be located near a water resource like a canal, a pond or a well. This will help reduce the financial risk of sugarcane planting and enable it to undergo the dry season. Since sugarcane’s growth is continuous, its stubbles can be left without re-planting the new one. As the price of sugarcane is between 700 and 800 Thai Baht per ton at 10 CCS sweetness, it is difficult to gain profits from plant cane. Only Ratoon crop is profitable in case the stubbles are well cared. Well irrigated sugarcane farms will have sufficient moisture, enabling soil fungi such as metarhizium to control some pests, namely stem boring grub. In other words, when sugarcane gets enough water, it will resist diseases and pests.
In case of poorly soil fertility and under rainfed condition, owners are recommended not to plant any sugarcane and try to find a way to reduce capital cost of production while maintaining the amount of the product in the farm. They can start with preparing soil to plant sugarcane by stripe tillage, an innovative method under the research of the Department of Agriculture. The stripe tillage is low budgeted and enables sufficiently fast planting of sugarcane before the soil is dry. Farm owners have to leave planting distance and length of a sugarcane row in relation to agricultural machines and appropriate amount of chemical fertilizer. Two ways of putting fertilizer in the soil to allow the plant to obtain nutrient easily include using nitrogen fertilizer and drip system. Use of stool splitter fertilizer applicators will enable sugarcane to obtain nutrient easily and allow farmers to add insecticide to kill stem boring grub and white grub, too. Planting and maintain sugarcane should be finish in time because the plant will grow well under low cost. For instance, finishing planting sugarcane when the soil is moistened , it can survive under the dry season; irrigation in cane field have to finish before sugarcane wilting; weed should be killed when it is small and few population.
Sugarcane production technology should be low cost but effective and suitable for a specific area. It is not recommendable to use expensive equipment and machines in the period when the price of sugarcane is very low. The stool splitter fertilizer applicator in Thailand is as cheap as 85,000 Thai Baht. It can be used to apply fertilizer and pesticide to kill stem boring grub effectively.
Above all, Thai sugarcane farm owners have to find a way to reduce maintenance cost. They can use simple ways such as killing weed along with fertilizer application at the same time. However, Thailand is still unable to compete with the world’s biggest exporter in other countries in terms of harvesting and transporting expenses. This can be solved by planting sugarcane in an area not far from a sugar factory, planting highly sugar content and enhancing efficiency of sugarcane harvester and logistics. Most importantly, the farm owners have to record costs and output gain from each activity in farm to use as information to improve cane farm management and caring apart from using appropriate production factors to increase net profits.