The trend for green, healthy, toxic-free and environmentally-friendly food consumption is currently of interest among people worldwide as much as the leading cane and sugar manufacturer in Thailand like Wangkanai Group. Concerned with consumers’ needs, the company is promoting “vast cane farm agriculture for an organic industry” carried out at present in the area of Tha Luang district, Lopburi. The product gained from the activity will be the major ingredient of “organic sugar”, 75% of which is sold countrywide while 25% exported to overseas. Winning a lot of international standard prizes, the industry is willing to support Thai farmers. With cooperation of Wangkanai Group’s cane and sugar mills, it has recently launched an agreement to change chemically-dependent cane production to organic one.
To discuss about the great success of the “vast cane farm agriculture for organic industry” from then and now, Sugar Asia was honored by Mr. Petchchuchai Petchlam, the director of Cane Procurement Department, T.N. Wangkanai Co. Ltd.’s Sugar Industry, for an interview about management in a cane farm and administration of the organic industry that brighten the future of sugar cane for local farm owners. These methods could provide them with more income while dismiss their worries about high capital costs on growing cane and chemical residues in soil, resulting in products that are safe and healthy for both farmers and consumers.
Wangkanai Group is always determined to promote the vast organic cane farm as a future model to provide knowledge and expand more areas for the farm
Said Mr. Petchchuchai
Benefits of Vast Cane Farm Agriculture for Organic Industry
The vast cane farm agriculture for organic industry is beneficial for manufacturers’ and consumers’ health, and, most importantly, environment since no chemical is added in the soil at all. When it rains, the rainwater washing the soil’s surface does not bring with it any chemical substances to rivers and canals. Moreover, there is neither burning cane before cutting it nor burning its leaves or carcass after harvesting, so cane stumps, which are the primary source of profits in cane farming, can be left for several years.
In the process of planting cane for organic industry, Mr. Petchchuchai explained that local farmers would gather together to share knowledge and help one another, starting from soil and cane preparation (Both can be borrowed and returned in the following year.), workforce distribution (A group of farmers will help one another.), cane cutting (A harvester is used.) to sending harvested cane to a mill. All processes were inter-dependent and every farmer jointly purchased production materials and agricultural equipment. The purchase’s cost could be a lot cheaper because the farmers bought equipment in large amount.
In terms of investment, most farmers usually do plantation in their own farm. The majority of expenses often include fuel for soil ploughing and preparation and weed eradication whereas cheap organic fertilizer and molasses can be obtained directly from a factory. Some farmers make organic liquid fertilizer by themselves or receive seeds, fertilizer and chemical substances called LDD 2 (Some microbial activators to decompose leftover materials from agriculture) from public organizations.
According to a survey done by public organizations, the above-mentioned activity has started since 2017 with 30 members from a total of large plots of farmland of 1,770.08 Rai which yield overall products of 16,178.53 tons per year. In the cultivation year 2019/2020, Thai farmers had average capital costs from production to harvest of 6,385 Baht per Rai (When plants yield crops at the age of 10 months to 1 year). The harvesting period between December and April saw average products of 10-15 tons per Rai, of which the average net income (profits) is 1,115 Baht per Rai.
Promoting Technology to Mobilize Cane for Organic Industry Production
Regarding using technology or innovations to plant sugarcane, Mr. Petchchuchai said, “We started from preparing a farming plot, plowing of subsoil to leave cane stumps for several years, keeping some space between soil furrows when planting cane to facilitate harvesters and using small machines to get rid of weeds because the area never underwent subsoil plowing before. The space between soil furrows should be around 1.0-1.2 meters. Other plants for fresh manure should be planted between the furrows, too, to maintain soil quality and control some weed instead of using chemical substances to rid it. Solar energy was introduced instead of fuel and electricity for irrigation in cane farms.”
Wangkanai is at present promoting production of organic cane by encouraging latest knowledge and innovations to local farm owners. For instance, a training was provided for them besides a field visit and on-site workshops in which resource persons from concerned agencies were invited to provide useful knowledge. Resources of low-interest loan are procured to be used as working capital or purchase agricultural equipment on installment payment. Also, officials will visit farmland every month and a 3-month group meeting is organized at the sugar mill to raise some problems and share them among group members.
Creating A Model for Vast Organic Cane Farm in Lopburi
Wangkanai Group is always determined to promote the vast organic cane farm as a future model to provide knowledge and expand more areas for the farm later as it serves as a quality raw material resource and prevents any more environmental destruction for the sake of manufacturers’ and consumers’ health. This results in a plan to expand farmland to around 2,000 Rai for organic cane cultivation to serve market needs.
“We need at least 3 years to change the land adjacent to the organic cane farm of our members so that the owners turn to plant organic cane. This period is recommendable because owners of the new farm must stop using chemical substances of no less than 36 months according to requirements of the international organic agricultural standard. Doing so will accommodate management and activities there,” added Mr. Petchchuchai.
Following a survey, local farmers earned over 37% income from non-chemical cane for organic industry. The product was certified by both national and international standards as well as organic agriculture one, namely 1) European Economic Community’s, 2) American Organic Agriculture’s, 3) Japanese Organic Agriculture’s, 4) Korean Organic Agriculture’s and 5) Canadian Organic Agriculture’s. Those guarantee and ensure sellers and consumers about high standard and quality of the cane product for organic industry.
Favorable Responses to Organic Sugar Consumption
Nowadays, people are increasingly concerned with their health as it is evident from high favor of agriculture-based food and products followed by an environmental effect. As use of toxic chemical substances continues, safe food includes organic one made in organic farms. Although its price is rather higher than the one of products made from normal agriculture, those who can afford it, particularly people in the US, Europe or some Asian countries, are willing to buy it for their good health. The countries with the highest responses to organic sugar, however, are in Europe (39%), namely England, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, followed by the US and Canada and in Asia and the Pacific, such as China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
“Similar to other agricultural products whose prices are higher than normal sugar’s, organic sugar does not see high selling amount for individuals or small business. However, in terms of current food industry, manufacturers are very competitive for safe food, so food industry which depends mainly on sugar like bakery, chocolate, beverages, dairy products, sweets, candies and snacks, is turning to more organic one,” explained Mr. Petchchuchai.
Positive Trends for Organic Sugar in World Market
It is estimated that trends for organic sugar in the world market are increasing yearly, especially the market of Europe and North America. Initially, it was predicted that demands for organic sugar would increase up to 16% from 2019 to 2024, but the impact of Covid-19 slowed them down to only 14%. Consequently, cultivation of organic cane should increase to accommodate such demands,” said Mr. Petchchuchai.
In Thailand, a lot of sugar mills are interested in cultivating organic cane for organic sugar, but expansion of organic cane farms in the country relies on different factors, such as farmers’ understanding. As a lot of people still misunderstand about organic agriculture, farming areas must be initially free from chemical substances and everyone should be promoted to access the principles of organic agriculture. Moreover, some farmers have problems about their own farmland since it is rented, they are not sure when the land is returned to the owner. Such reluctance obstructs opportunities for organic agriculture.
Regarding workforce, in case individual farmers require people to cut sugarcane and do not have any machines, resulting in late transfer to a sugar mill, the problem will be solved by sufficient financial support or modern machines. In addition, production factors like certified organic fertilizer are still rare while uncertified ones are easier to acquire. Such difficulty makes local farmers give up their effort.
Concerned with the problem, Mr. Petchchuchai concluded that some natural disasters, such as drought which affects low amount of cane, can make farmers change their decision to cultivate other kinds of crop like cassava as it can grow well in hot and dry areas. As a result, should all the above-mentioned problems be solved or improved, expansion of area for organic cane cultivation will be certainly possible.