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Use of Mechanical Harvesters on the Rise

Use of  Mechanical Harvesters  on the Rise
Chandra Ratnam (right) with two of his mechanical harvester Operators. Photo: FSC
July 28
12:15 2018

Narayan Choy has toiled the land all his life and at seventy-eight years old is still completely relentless in his pursuit of farming life. His friendly and soft-spoken demeanor masks the hard work he engages in daily, as a sugar cane grower.

“I started off as a sadar (a sadar is the head sugar cane labourer); I did this for about thirty years, at that time labour cost good and was much better to hire,” Mr Choy says.

Like many sugar cane growers, Mr Choy is a generational farmer and took over the running of their family farm from his father in the 1990s. Today, his own sons are now also engaged in sugar cane farming.

In 2016, Mr Choy switched from employing manual harvesting gangs to mechanical harvesting.

He hires a mechanical harvesting contractor, within his locality to harvest his two farms.

The migration from manual labour harvesting to that done mechanically, has proven to be the right decision for him.

It has freed him up to focus on other areas in his sugar cane farming business.

Both of his farms are located in the Lovu sector, just 5 minutes outside Lautoka. This year he expects to harvest over 600 tonnes of cane from both his farms.

From his experience, harvesting mechanically has worked out best for him, as it has reduced his harvesting time.

“Even though I pay a bit more, it just took two days to harvest this field,” said Mr Choy, pointing to show us the now empty plot.

Mr Choy’s love and appreciation of the land is profound. Like many sugar cane growers, during the harvesting time and also during planting season, he is out in the field by 5am. This is not new to him as the long labouring farming hours has been a feature of his life for decades. And the farming lifestyle has paid off for him financially and also physically. A man of his stature does not look a day past fifty.

“Working in the farm keeps me healthy!” he adds.

At sixty-two years old, Chandra Prakash Ratnam is a successful sugarcane farmer and businessman. Like his father before him, Mr Ratnam is now into his 30th year of sugarcane farming. This year he is expecting to harvest 1200 tonnes of cane.

Apart from being a farmer, Mr Ratnam is also a mechanical harvesting contractor and hires out his two Casey mechanical harvesters to other cane farmers within his locality. He employs three staff members as harvester operators, two locals and one expatriate from India.

“My worker from India has been with me for three years now; I bring him across during every crushing season,” he said.

In comparing this year’s crush to 2017, Mr Ratnam observes the stark improvement in the cane crop – it is a much healthier crop. He attributes the Government grants being injected into sugar cane farming and positive policies as the major factors for this.

“Everything is almost half priced right now,” he says.

According to him, this has been the positive stimulus for much of the growth in sugarcane farming this year.

“Farmers have looked after the welfare of their farms very well this year, there has been increases in fertilizer and weedicides and the condition of the farms is indicative of this,” Mr Ratnam said.

Last year, his operators would be harvesting 60 to 70 tonnes of cane per day, this season this has gone to a hundred tonnes a day. And he has observed there has definitely been an increase in the hiring of his mechanical harvesters.

This year, his mechanical harvesters will be harvesting up to seven thousand tonnes of cane within the Lautoka Mill area and around two thousand tonnes of cane within the Ba Mill area.

According to Mr Ratnam, mechanical harvesting is definitely on the rise and will most likely be the case in years to come.

Mr Ratnam operates two Casey III mechanical harvesters and invests around $360 for fuel each day.

Source: Fiji Sugar Corporation

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