Sangli, Maharashtra: Sugar cane farmers in Maharashtra are selling their produce at almost double the price to a grass-starved dairy sector as patchy rains and rising food prices push up cattle-feed costs.
A drought-like situation in many parts of the state, the biggest sugar producer, has created severe shortage of fodder and raised demand for cane as replacement.
“Sugar factories last year paid Rs750 per tonne. But I am getting Rs1,200 to 1,300 for providing cane as fodder,” said Balasaheb Patil, a 50-year-old farmer from Sangli, 400km from Mumbai.
Patil has sold 20 tonnes of cane in last one month and said he expects to sell 40-50 tonnes more in next two months.
Barring the hot northern areas and its coastal belt, the state’s Sangli-Kolhapur-Satara-Pune-Ahmednagar belt accounts for more than half its sugar and milk output.
Skewed pricing of cattle feed is also a reason. One tonne of manufactured feed cost around Rs6,500, while grass cost Rs1,400, farmers said.
“Farmers usually stockpile dry fodder for summer months when there is a shortage of green fodder. That dry fodder has been exhausted and green fodder is not available due to scanty rains,” said Vinayak Patil, chairman of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Milk Federation.
Maharashtra has three million farmers who own cattle and double up as producers of milk.
“Buying cane is a loss making business for farmers, but they have no other option,” Patil said.
The state government has been setting up fodder depots in dry areas and was also buying cane as cattle feed from farmers, said a senior official of the animal husbandry department, who did not want to be identified.
“Sugar factories will start procurement after two-three months and pay a month after the harvest. But fodder buyers are paying us immediately,” said Bharat Mali, another cane farmer from Kavalapur village in Sangli district.
Sugar factories in the state usually start procurement from mid-October but are planning to start buying from November this year due to lower availability of cane.
But, the new consumers of cane also threaten millers.
“This (diversion of cane) is an unprecedented thing that has happened this year,” Prakash Naiknavare, managing director of Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation Ltd (MSCSFF), said.
Cane availability for this year’s crushing season is expected to go down to 50 million tonnes (mt) out of total cane production of 54.4mt due to the diversion, Naiknavare estimated.
“The diversion is across the state, but it is sharper in those districts which got lesser rains,” said Balasaheb Patil, chairman of MSCSFF.
The farmers are happy to sell to cattle owners, who are also usually farmers, for other benefits. While millers buy only the cane, those who want it as fodder buy it with the leaves, which increases the weight and returns, Mali said.
“You have to feed something to livestock. You can’t sell them to butcher,” said Sudhakar Gawali, a farmer who owned 16 buffaloes, buying cane in the Sangli’s main market. “Green grass is more expensive than cane. Prices of manufactured feeds are also high. So cane is a better alternative.” REUTERS