Rice farmers looking to switch to growing sugar cane have been assured that their crops will be bought by sugar mills, which have already begun submitting proposals to the Industry Ministry to expand production capacity.
The moves come in response to the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry's initiative for 6.7 million rai now used for rice farming to be converted to sugar-cane plantation, as the areas are unsuited to growing rice.
Of the total, 4.19 million rai is within a 50-kilometre radius of sugar mills and 2.1 million rai is within 50-100 kilometres.
Another 3.5 million rai, including the remaining 410,000 rai in the first lot, is in areas suitable for growing both sugar cane and maize because they are near sugar mills and animal feed plants.
Sirivuth Siamphakdee, a spokesman for Thai Sugar Millers Corporation, said the ministry's plan is in line with sugar mills' goal to expand cane plantation by 7.2 million rai, starting with 2.5 million for the 2014-15 crop, 2.7 million for 2016-17 and 2 million for 2017-18.
For the 2012-13 season, total sugar-cane farming of 9.33 million rai resulted in production of 100 million tonnes for a yield of 10.72 tonnes per rai.
Mr Sirivuth said sugar mill operators are confident of processing higher cane capacity under the state's policy to turn rice-farming areas into sugar plantation.
Sugar mills stand ready to provide basic advice to planters on preparing cane, soil, water and cutting.
Thailand's sugar mills can handle about 130 million tonnes of sugar cane a year, so the increased capacity as a result of the government's zoning scheme will not be a problem for planters and millers, said Mr Sirivuth.
Farmers who switch from planting rice to sugar cane can rest assured that their produce will be bought by sugar mills, he said.
The revised target, meanwhile, has prompted sugar mill operators to ask for permits for factory expansion and/or relocation.
Krisda Monthienvichienchai, Mitr Phol's president and CEO, said the company has submitted requests to the Industry Ministry for production expansion, but he declined to comment on actual figures, saying the plan has not been approved by the cabinet.
Mitr Phol, Asia's biggest sugar producer, will focus in the meantime on expanding in the domestic market as opposed to overseas, he said.
Sugar shipments from Thailand will probably climb 15% to a record next year as increased plantings boost output, the Office of the Cane and Sugar Board told Bloomberg yesterday.
Exports will reach 8.5 million tonnes in 2014 from an estimated 7.4 million this year, said Somsak Suwattiga, secretary-general of the state-run board.
Production will expand by 10% to an all-time high of 11 million tonnes in the crushing season starting Nov 15 from a highest-ever cane harvest of 110 million tonnes, he said.
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