El Niño effort must be ramped up – SRA

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REGULATORS are urging sugarcane industry stakeholders to step up efforts to mitigate the impact of the ongoing El Niño weather phenomenon, which is expected to last until June of next year.

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While sugarcane “is a very resilient crop . . . we still have to be prepared,” Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief Ma. Regina Bautista-Martin said during a recent planning workshop.

The ongoing El Niño has led to below normal rainfall for the country. The weather bureau has said that the 2015-2016 occurrence could be among the four strongest since 1950, with the others having been recorded in 1972-1973, 1982-1983 and 1997-1998.

The SRA briefing highlighted the expected impact on sugarcane. The lack of water would result in poor germination for first growth plant cane and lower stool survival for the succeeding growth of ratoon cane. Insufficient soil moisture will also decrease tillering or stem production capacity and retard stalk elongation, all resulting to lower cane and sugar output.

For crop year 2015-2016, cane for early planting was affected by dry spells at the start of 2015, exhibiting poor tillering and leaf drying. Mid and late plantings saw poor germination and tillering.

The impact was evident with poor stalk growth as shown from shorter internodes, the SRA’s Martin noted.

Now that the 2015-16 milling season has started and with El Niño in effect, cane for early milling will be favored as yields would be higher. Cane for mid and late milling tonnage is expected to decrease, with faster sugar quality deterioration given extremely dry and hot conditions.

The SRA briefing was part of efforts to raise awareness and develop mitigating measures against one of the strongest El Niños to hit the country.

Anthony Joseph Lucero, senior weather specialist at the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said the El Niño now in progress would strengthen further and last until April or June of 2016.

This month, farms in Tarlac and Cavite will already experience dry spells, or short periods of low rainfall, while those in Pampanga, Batangas, Iloilo and Cagayan will be hit by dry conditions. Isabela will be under a drought as inadequate rains will already be prolonged.

Dry spells are expected for the whole of the Visayas by December while Iloilo will already be under a drought. Batangas, Cagayan, Camarines Sur, Cotabato and Davao will experience dry spells while Bukidnon will be hit by dry conditions.

Drought will affect nearly all sugar farms by March or April 2016, except in Bukidnon where there will be dry conditions.

The action plan to mitigate the effects of El Niño calls for, among others, the use of cloud seeding, shallow tube wells, field irrigation and drainage canals, rain collection and water impounding lagoons, and the increased propagation and distribution of drought-resistant varieties.

The SRA has been coordinating with local government units for cloud seeding, the National Irrigation Agency for irrigation and the Bureau of Soils and Water Management and National Water Resource Board for shallow tube wells.

The country’s sugar production for crop year 2015-2016 is forecast to reach 2.27 million metric tons, roughly the same level as the expected domestic requirement of 2.25 million MT.

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