THE Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said the recent bout of unfavorable weather weakens planters’ arguments for an August start to milling season, with the wet conditions expected to depress yields from cane.

“We are just getting ready for milling, although the weather is not cooperating. That’s one of the reasons why we’re pushing for a Sept. 1 start,” SRA Acting Administrator Pablo Luis S. Azcona said at a briefing.

“And because August is generally wet in Negros, it is really hard to mill,” he added.

The SRA has held to its position of stating milling on Sept. 1, rejecting calls from planters to start in August.

Mr. Azcona said that milling in rainy weather decreases the purity and sugar content of cane, adding, “Fields are being damaged… (with proper weather), you can ratoon.”

Ratooning is the harvesting of above-ground plants while leaving the roots and shoots intact, setting the stage for the next crop.

He said the SRA originally estimated that 85% of sugar farmers will not have access to water with the onset of El Niño, leading to a forecast decline of 10-15% in cane output.

Meanwhile, Mr. Azcona said 4,000 tons of smuggled sugar that has been seized will be donated to the Department of Agriculture (DA), to be sold at Kadiwa stores at P75 per kilogram.

“Once the (memorandum of agreement) is signed, the stocks will be moved… maybe after repacking,” he said.

In a statement, the DA announced the receipt of the sugar from the Bureau of Customs (BoC) following the signing of a deed of donation.

The smuggled sugar originated in Thailand and was seized in April at the port of Batangas.

“We firmly believe that, through DA, this donation will reach various communities and enable our fellow Filipinos to conveniently access sugar,” BoC Commissioner Bienvenido Y. Rubio said.

As of July 31, the retail price of a kilogram of refined sugar in Metro Manila markets was between P86 and P110, washed sugar between P82 and P90, and brown sugar between P78 and P90, according to DA price monitors. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera