HAVANA, May 26 (Reuters) - The Cuban sugar industry has met its technical plan of 1.8 million tonnes of raw sugar for this year’s harvest, according to provincial media reports and industry sources, but will fall short of hopes that output could reach the 2 million tonne mark this season.
The majority of the 50 mills that participated in the harvest have closed, with only a handful expected to grind on into June.
The sugar harvest began in November with the “winter” season and usually runs into May as the summer heat and rains begin.
January through March are key months as dry and cool weather increase yields.
AZCUBA, the state-run sugar monopoly, said on April 17 that it had reached the previous harvest’s output of 1.6 million tonnes of raw sugar.
AZCUBA, formed five years ago and which replaced the Sugar Ministry, was founded with the goal of reversing a long decline in output from 8 million tonnes in 1990, and three years ago said it would produce 2.4 million tonnes by 2015.
Only eight mills in the country were built after the 1959 revolution, the last in the 1980s.
When the harvest began last November, AZCUBA said output would increase 12.5 percent or to 1.8 million tonnes.
However, government officials said they expected an increase of more than 20 percent.
“We are going to produce almost 300,000 tonnes more than last year, but we will not meet the plan,” Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Communist Party, told a congress of farmers earlier this month.
The industry has traditionally had two plans, the “technical” or minimum expected, and the “operational” or maximum possible given the amount of cane available.
Machado was referring to the latter.
Reuters estimates production will come in at around 1.85 million tonnes.
Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar a year and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 tonnes annually.
Sugar was long Cuba’s most important industry and export but today ranks eighth in foreign currency earnings, behind services, remittances, tourism, petroleum products, nickel, pharmaceuticals, and tobacco products. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Marguerita Choy)