By Nanette Guadalquiver

HIGHER MILL GATE PRICES. A cane truck on the way to a sugar mill in Silay City, Negros Occidental in this file photo. The biggest independent sugar group in the country, the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines (UNIFED), in a statement on Tuesday (March 19, 2024) said they are thankful that “prices have gone up to the level that farmers are comfortable with.” (PNA-Bacolod file photo)

BACOLOD CITY – Higher mill gate prices of sugar have brought “big relief” to farmers amid the challenges posed by the drought due to El Niño to sugarcane plantations.

After hitting PHP2,600 per 50-kg. bag in February, prices went even higher, breaching the PHP2,800 level by the middle of March.

The biggest independent sugar group in the country, the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines (UNIFED), said in a statement on Tuesday that they are thankful that “prices have gone up to the level that farmers are comfortable with.”

“Today’s prices are a big relief to planters who are also facing the problem brought about by El Niño,” said UNIFED president Manuel Lamata, based in this city.

He acknowledged Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. and Sugar Regulatory Administration (DA) chief Pablo Luis Azcona for their efforts that resulted in higher mill gate prices.

“We owe a lot to Secretary Laurel and Administrator Azcona, and also our planters’ representative to the SRA Board, Dave Sanson, who gave solutions to our problem on low mill gate prices at the start of the milling season,” he added.

In Negros Occidental, the country’s sugar capital, bidding prices in at least seven sugar mills ranged from PHP2,801 to PHP2,856 per 50-kg. bag during the week ending March 10.

Lamata noted that when UNIFED first came out with an appeal, the “mill gate prices then was at PHP2,400 per 50-kg. bag.”

This was not even a break-even point for the farmers, particularly those with smaller plantations, as the costs of farm inputs were also high at that time. We immediately sought the DA and SRA intervention, and thankfully, they responded with the issuance of Sugar Order (SO) No. 2,” he added.

SO2 allows traders to purchase 300,000 metric tons of local raw sugar in exchange for future allocations, seen to stabilize mill gate prices while “ensuring fair and reasonable retail prices.”

“Thereafter, prices started going up to what it is now, PHP2,850 per 50-kg. bag on average. I hope that the recent sugar order will be institutionalized for succeeding crop years to ensure steady and competitive prices for our mill gate produce,” Lamata said. (PNA)