|Two workers loading sugar bags at the Son Duong Sugar JSC in the northern province of Tuyen Quang. — VNA/VNS Photo Vu Sinh
HCM CITY (VNS) — The sugar and sugarcane industry should look for ways to enhance its competitiveness, especially with the ASEAN Economic Community set to come into existence next year.
Vo Tong Xuan, chairman of the Tay Ninh Sugar and Sugarcane Research Centre and senior adviser on sugar to the Thanh Thanh Cong Group, said sugarcane and sugar production costs remain high in Viet Nam compared to other countries in the region.
The industry is thus at risk of losing on home turf once the AEC comes into being, he told a conference organised by the Thanh Thanh Cong Group.
More than 200 scientists, farmers, and local and foreign executives from the sugar industry attended the conference that analysed successful models from Viet Nam and other countries like Thailand and Australia to help farmers improve their yields.
Nguyen Huu Loc, chairman of Thanh Thanh Cong's sugarcane committee, said the area under sugarcane increased slightly in recent years to 289,018ha to yield a sugar output of 1.58 million tonnes in the 2013-14 crop.
"The average sugar yield in Viet Nam is 5.47 tonnes per hectare, much lower than 7.62 in China, 8.05 in Thailand, and 11.8 in Australia, "he said.
Ho Thai Binh of Nuoc Trong Sugar Joint Stock Company, which grows 2,150ha of sugarcane in Tay Ninh Province, said irrigation during the dry season and timely use of fertilisers among other things helped his company improve the quality of sugarcane and yield to 85 tonnes per hectare.
Profits have increased to VND27.25 million (US$1,285) per hectare compared to VND17.89 million without irrigation during the dry season, he added.
Nguyen Trong Thua, director of the Department of Processing and Trade for Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Products and Salt Production, said the small scale and scattered production made it hard to mechanise sugarcane production, resulting in high costs and low productivity.
Besides, a lack of irrigation and use of unsuitable sugarcane varieties also affected productivity, he said.
Post-harvest loss of sucrose in the cane was high, especially in areas where transport from the fields to the mills was limited, he said.
Factors that cause a reduction in sugarcane yields include growing unsuitable varieties, poor techniques, and inappropriate choice of planting time, fertilisers, and irrigation, and failure to mechanise, according to Loc.
The planting time decides sugarcane yields, good preparation of land help roots grow well, and mechanised planting helps reduce costs.
Meanwhile, disease-free and high-purity saplings plays a decisive role in increasing yields, and farmers should be careful in translocating strains since they are not suitable for all regions.
Le Ngoc Tinh, a cane grower in Tay Ninh, said controlling dangerous sugarcane diseases was also very important.
He said authorities should invest more to produce harvesters suitable for each region. While sugar companies should co-operate with farmers associations to set up co-operative teams to make it easy to use machines in sugarcane cultivation, he added.
Loc said the country had10 different areas suitable for cane cultivation, each with different climatic and soil conditions, and so it was important to find a suitable model for each region.
Besides studying the latest global models to identify new technologies, successful domestic models should also be expanded, he said.
Thua urged the sugar industry to boost research to make use of sugarcane by-products, saying this would help reduce sugar production costs and improve the competitiveness of Vietnamese sugar. — VNS