03/14/13 - Reuters - Cuban sugar milling slowed by maintenance, transportation, weather
* Industry strains to meet 1.7 million tonne plan
* Most provinces behind schedule
* Mill and mechanical problems blamed
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, March 14 (Reuters) - A majority of Cuba's 13 sugar-producing provinces will have to extend milling well beyond the end of April if the industry hopes to reach its goal of 1.7 million tonnes of raw sugar this season, local media reports and sources indicated this week.
Milling has been slowed by breakdowns at mills, transportation problems, and the availability of sugar cane due to Hurricane Sandy.
This is bad news for AZCUBA, the state-run holding company that replaced the Sugar Ministry two years ago, and which announced in December that most mills would close before May when the hot and humid summer season sets in and efficiency plummets.
AZCUBA said at the time it would produce 1.7 million tonnes of raw sugar this season, 20 percent more than last harvest's estimated 1.4 million tonnes.
While the central provinces of Camaguey and Ciego de Avila topped the 100,000-tonne mark this week, more or less on schedule, Villa Clara and the eastern provinces of Las Tunas and Holguin, with larger plans, have yet to do so, while a number of provinces with lesser goals were also reported behind schedule.
The official Las Tunas weekly, 26 Digital, reported earlier this month that the province's mills were producing 1,500 tonnes of raw sugar per day, after experiencing serious problems in February, "near what is needed to meet the production plan before the end of May."
The biggest problems appear to be in eastern Cuba, hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in October.
"There have been serious problems with the mills and transportation in the five eastern provinces, responsible for more than a third of the plan," said a source close to the industry, who asked not to be identified.
"There is plenty of cane to meet the plan, with the exception of Santiago due to Sandy, but the mills are repeatedly breaking down and the transportation of cane has also suffered from similar equipment problems and a lack of spare parts," he said.
In early February Leobel Perez Hernandez, spokesperson for AZCUBA, told state-run media that production was 7.8 percent behind schedule because some mills opened late and were operating, on average, at 92.2 percent of planned capacity.
There has been no comment from the company since then.
Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar and has a 400,000-tonne toll agreement with China.
(Reporting By Marc Frank; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer) ((firstname.lastname@example.org)(+537-833-3145)(Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))
Keywords: FOOD CUBA/SUGAR
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