Sugarcane Harvest

The busiest time of the year for Alma Plantation is underway with the sugar cane harvest. A robust harvest is anticipated for 2021, Alma Plantation General Manager Alan Chatman said.

An employee shortage, higher fuel prices and much tighter supply availability have made life tough for many industries across the globe.

Alma Plantation has dodged those bullets thus far.

In a year rife with potential pitfalls, the 2021 grinding season has been strong for the Lakeland sugar refinery.

“It’s been smooth sailing on the harvest and a good year so far,” said Alan Chatman, Alma Plantation general manager. “It’s a little bit less than last year, but it looks good overall.”

Alma Plantation likely will finish the 2021 crop harvest with 1.95 million tons. The total will rank only behind last year’s total of 1.99 million tons.

Dryer weather in late summer and mostly mild temperatures during October and November provided for an easier harvest, which has helped amid the prevailing challenges.

“It’s been dry and that brings in less field soil and trash into the factory, which makes for a much less costly harvest,” Chatman said.

“With fuel prices where they are now, dry conditions are welcome because the fuel costs make the price for everything else go up.”

Fuel costs led to a balancing act because the price received for the finished product remains unchanged, even as all the prices for input have gone up.

The supply shortage and spike in fuel prices prompted Alma to do change its strategy.

“We’ve had to switch to an alternative cleaning chemical and a few things we don’t normally use, but we have a group of folks dedicated to getting us what we need, so we’ve been able to find it,” Chatman said.

The delivery of mill components from overseas also created headaches.

“Almost everything was delayed, which meant some of our input from overseas – some of our chemicals, for example – were among the items we weren’t able to get, so we had to move on to try to get other things,” Chatman said.

“Not everything is a phone call away, but we’ve been fortunate.”

Meanwhile, Alma offered vaccines and had its own op-med company come onsite to join with nurses on optional vaccinations.

They asked those who are not vaccinated to continue wearing a mask.

The smooth run amid all the possible pitfalls has not surprised Chatman.

Preparation during the offseason minimized the obstacles.

“A lot of effort goes into everything, so when you put your best forward and give 110 percent effort every day, things tend to work well for you.

“I think that speaks well for everyone who works here at the company because they’re here to meet the goals,” he said. “We’re a resilient bunch.”

Harvest season should end by early January.

Work will begin for the next year not long after the current season ends, Chatman said.

“Right now, we’ve already started ordering materials and planning projects and putting projects into motion for the 2022 offseason,” he said.

“These days, you have to do things a little bit ahead of time.

“We’re focused on this year, but we’re also mindful of what we need to do for next year,” Chatman said.