Cuban raw sugar production headed toward 30 percent decline

HAVANA (Reuters) - This year’s Cuban sugar harvest will be one of the lowest in more than a century at 1.1 million to 1.3 million tonnes of raw sugar, a drop of 30 percent, Reuters estimated based on sources and state-run media.

Cuba produced 1.8 million tonnes of raw sugar in the last harvest.

The milling season runs from late November through April when the weather is normally dry and temperatures cool and the cane plants yield the most sugar. Yields and output fall significantly after that as hot and humid summer weather sets in.

Most mills did not open this season until around the New Year in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Then unseasonable rainfall shut most of the mills down for over a month.

Many mills are now expected to remain open into May, and even June, if the weather permits.

Azcuba, the state sugar monopoly, planned to produce 1.6 million tonnes this season after drought and the hurricane damaged the crop, but then the wet weather further dampened expectations.

“Azcuba said the sector would not rest until it meets the plan, which has suffered a readjustment of 20 percent (320,000 tonnes),” state-run Radio Rebelde reported last week.

Provincial media had referred to the readjustment previously, but there was no mention of the national reduction before the Radio Rebelde report.

For example, the eastern Las Tunas provincial newspaper, Periodic 26, said that “the decision of the country to exonerate the territory of the deficit of 60,000 tonnes ... caused by intense and prolonged rain from the end of December through mid-February, was right and just.”

Las Tunas was expected to be the only province to produce more than 200,000 tonnes this season. The paper put the new plan at 141,000 tonnes.

The Cuban sugar ministry was eliminated in 2011 and Azcuba formed after output declined to 1.1 million tonnes, the lowest in more than a century and far below the eight million tonnes produced in 1990 before the collapse of former benefactor the Soviet Union

Azcuba said upon its founding that it would be producing more than 2.5 million tonnes of raw sugar annually by 2018.

Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar a year and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 tonnes annually. It sells the rest on the open market.

Sugar was long Cuba’s most important industry and export, but today it ranks behind many sectors such as tourism, tobacco, nickel and pharmaceuticals.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Phil Berlowitz