Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

P.G. Jennings


The Jamaican sugar industry, despite significant contraction during the last two decades, continues to be the major agricultural sub-sector of the Jamaican economy. Export earnings from the sugar industry in 1985 were of the order of US$70 million which represented approximately ten percent of total export earnings or 56 percent of earnings from agricultural exports. The decline in the industry since the peak year of 1965 might be seen from the reduction in total land area devoted to sugarcane production from 60 700 ha to 37 000 ha in 1985, the latter representing approximately seven percent of the country's arable land. Despite its waning fortunes the industry remains an important stabilizing factor in the Jamaican economy directly employing some 50 000 persons with a further estimated 200 000 dependents (i.e. one-eighth of the Jamaican population is supported by the industry).

The industry has been affected by a lack of any sustained capital development over the last decade as lands have been reallocated to more economically attractive enterprises. It has been conceded by sugar interests, however, that of the present 37 000 ha planted to sugarcane approximately 20 percent still represents marginally productive land which might find more economic alternative usage (Shaw, 1986). With existing technology it would still be possible to meet current market requirements of approximately 225 000 tonnes sugar even with this further reduced acreage by increasing yields of cane to 80 tonnes per hectare. Livestock production from the marginal sugar lands has long been suggested as an option in the diversification of the industry.


The total quantity of sugarcane milled at the nine factories in operation during the 1985 crop was 2.2 million tonnes which was converted to approximately 206 000 tonnes of sugar, 78 000 tonnes of molasses and 336 000 tonnes of bagasse. (Falloon, SIRI, personal communication).

Bagasse: With the decline in the industry, bagasse has become virtually unavailable as a feed material as most of it is used in situ for fuelling factory boilers. The feeding of bagasse, as poultry litter, still continues, however, particularly among small beef producers in combination with other low cost feed materials such as wet brewer's grains and molasses.

Molasses: The availability of molasses to the farmer has drastically declined in recent years. However, it continues to be the most widely used sugarcane byproduct in livestock feeding, largely through its use in the compound feed industry, which in 1985 has accounted for approximately 22 percent of the total output of molasses. Much of the remainder have been used in alcohol production, direct export of molasses having declined substantially during the last ten years.

Cane tops: The practice of cane burning on most estates has reduced the availability of sugarcane tops as a feed source. Nevertheless cane tops remain an important dry-season fodder for small livestock farmers in close proximity to cane farmer's holdings. It is unlikely, however, that any significant technology could be developed around the use of cane tops due mainly to the problems of collection and transportation of this material from the fields. Even on larger farms where burning is not carried out, cane tops have an important role as a soil conditioner which virtually precludes their availability locally, as a feed source.

Other byproducts: Recent developments involving the testing of the cane separation technology by the Sugar Industry Research Institute (SIRI) in conjunction with CIDA indicate that this process has potential to contribute significantly to the livestock industry. The finely divided pith remaining after juice extraction has been tested at Bodles as a ruminant feed in conjunction with the Faculty of Agriculture, McGill University. This pilot project is being expanded to a semi-commercial operation with assistance from the West German Organization for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).


Whole cane and tops, have been an important traditional dry season feed for ruminants in Jamaica, particularly by farmers operating within or adjacent to cane-growing areas. Research on sugarcane feeding, however, is relatively recent with much of the effort commencing during the late-1960/early 1970 period. Large-scale commercial feeding of whole cane or byproducts, except for molasses used in the feed manufacturing industry, has been slow in development.

Research investigations

Much of the research into sugarcane feeding has been conducted at the Ministry of Agriculture's Bodies Agricultural Station and has largely been confined to studies with beef cattle. Archibald and Osuji (1981) have, however, described a study of chopped whole cane as feed for dairy cattle on a commercial farm.

The earlier work with beef cattle at Bodles has been reported by Dixon (1978). This work assessed the value of derinded sugarcane (‘sugar fith’) or chopped whole cane in conjunction with hay or cane tops, supplemented with protein and minerals, as feed for fattening cattle. Both feeds supported similar levels of average daily gain of the order of 1 kg per day and it was suggested that the added cost of producing ‘sugar fifth’ made its use less economical than that of chopped whole cane.

Molasses at levels well above conventional inclusion rates in commercial feed mixes has also been studied as a feed component along with other locally produced ingredients in feed mixes for finishing meat goats (Johnson, 1983). In four rations, inclusion rates of molasses ranged between 35 and 50 percent. It is significant that the researcher reported no adverse effects on the keeping quality of the rations, although at the higher levels of molasses inclusion, a low incidence of fungal growth was noted on the bottom of the jute sacks containing these mixes. The observations on keeping quality have important implications for increasing the use of molasses in the feed milling industry as an energy substitute for imported corn.

The most recent investigations involving the feeding of sugar cane derivatives have been based upon the evaluation of sugarcane pith after juice extraction in the cane separation process referred to earlier. The untreated pith has been compared with hay as the roughage (at 27 percent inclusion) in complete feeds for performance testing of dairy bulls (Gordon and McDonald, 1984, unpublished). Tables 1 and 2 display respectively the composition of the rations compared and the performance of the animals. The investigators reported no difference between hay-based or sugar pith-based rations or between rations based on home-mixed or commercial concentrate with animals gaining on average 1.1 kg per head per day.

Recent commercial developments

The application of research findings on the value of sugarcane as feed by the livestock industry has been slow. Recently, however, a commercial feedlot project based on sugarcane feeding was initiated, the success of which could have an important bearing on the expansion of the livestock industry based on an increased use of sugarcane as feed. This project was initially developed in 1983 to fatten 1300 head of cattle annually for the local butcher trade using a high-forage feedlot system based on the feeding of whole cane either freshly chopped or as silage. The ensiling process is based on the ‘Ag-Bag’ system whereby up to 150 tonnes of silage are ensiled in individual plastic containers. The project was established on a former sugar estate and had 140 ha of sugarcane available at the outset. Weaners are supplied from the farm's breeding herd augmented by purchases from other farms. Animals are introduced at 200 kg liveweight and finished at 400 kg. Initially, animals were offered a complete diet based on sugarcane which comprised approximately 86 percent of total ration (fresh weight). Target average daily gain was 0.78 kg per head at an estimated cost of J$2.52 (US$0.46) per kilogram of gain. Average daily gains of up to 1 kg per head have been reported. There has been, however, very wide variation in liveweight gains, due mainly to inclement weather conditions which affected the feeding conditions in most pens. At present, forage sorghum and milo are being introduced as alternative forages of higher feeding value which would reduce the fattening period and allow a higher annual turnover of animals.


The livestock sector has been targeted for sustained increases over the next ten years in the current national drive for food self-sufficiency. A major plank of the policy of self-sufficiency in livestock products is a shift from the current dependence on imported feed ingredients to an industry based upon maximum use of locally produced feeding materials. In 1985 over 100 000 tonnes of corn and 47 000 tonnes of soya were imported at a total cost of approximately US$22 million.

The dairy industry represents the area of greatest priority in the self-sufficiency programme for the livestock industry and it is probably in this area that the greatest potential exists for increasing the use of sugarcane as feed. Current annual production of milk, at approximately 45 million litres, represents only about 11 percent of estimated requirements. This production is from approximately 19 000 ha and any meaningful increases in production in the short run would require almost a quadrupling of pasture land, assuming current levels of productivity.

As previously indicated, approximately 7 400 ha of current sugar lands at minimum could be diversified without reducing the capacity to meet existing market requirements. Assuming a carrying capacity of 10 animal units per hectare this resource offers the potential for trebling the present dairy cattle population. Even at the present relatively depressed economics of dairying the net returns per hectare from milk production based on feeding of whole cane at 10 cow units per hectare would outstrip current returns from sugar.

Much of the previous research work on sugarcane feeding has been confined to studies on beef cattle. The viability of any expansion in the dairy industry based on sugarcane feeding will require further research on the year-round feeding of cane and particularly on a thorough evaluation of sugarcane silage supplemented with other indigenous materials for milk production.

With respect to other livestock enterprises the feasibility of sugarcane feeding as an alternative to sugar production is less attractive than dairying. At present lending rates, new investments in other types of ruminant production are less likely unless geared toward the export trade. There is, however, still great scope for increasing the levels of utilization of sugarcane byproducts such as bagasse and molasses. The feasibility of animal feeds developed from the cane separation process will need to be rigorously assessed if this is to compete with charcoal which is viewed as an alternate option for the dehydrated pith.


The sugar industry is uniquely equipped to contribute to the development of the Jamaican livestock industry in that much of the logistical problems associated with utilizing other indigenous sources of feed are absent. Additionally, a large body of research data on its potential as animal feed is available within the region and awaits commercial application. Within the sugar industry the technology exists for sustaining or even increasing current levels of production while reallocating substantial land areas to alternative agricultural enterprises.

The harnessing of this potential in the development of the livestock industry will require reorientation in national priorities to ensure that this industry contributes maximally to national development.


Archibald, K.A.E. and Osuji, P.O. 1981 Feeding sugar cane for milk production. Extension Newsletter, Dept. of Agric., Extension, Faculty of Agric., U.W.I., 12 (4): 19–22.

Dixon, F.M. 1978 Sugar cane for beef production: derinded sugar cane and chopped cane compared with hay and citrus pulp. Trop. Anim. Prod., 3: 104–108.

Gordon, C. and McDonald, D. 1984 The potential of agro-industrial byproducts for ruminants in Jamaica. Unpublished Report, Research and Development Div., Ministry of Agriculture, Jamaica.

Johnson, E.D. 1983 Intensive rearing of goats for meat integrated into a programme of development and testing of rations consisting essentially of local ingredients. In: Feeding of animals in the Caribbean. Eds. Neckles, F., Cateau, W. and Walmsley, D. Proceedings of Workshop Sponsored Jointly by CARDI and SFC.

Shaw, M.E.A. 1986 Perspectives on the Jamaican sugar industry. In: Sugar is everybody's business. A ‘Daily Cleaner’ Supplement, 16 May 1986.

Table 1: Formulation of complete diets including juice extracted pith, Bodies 1984
IngredientsDiet 1Diet 2Diet 3Diet 4
Commercial mix-73-73
Wheat middlings40-40-
Soya Meat20-20-
Sugar pith2727--
Pangola hay--2727

Source: Gordon and McDonald (1984) Unpublished

Table 2: Performance of bulls fed pith or hay based diets
 Over 134–day trial
Ave. D.M.I. (kg)
Ave. daily gain (kg)
F.C.E. (kg/kg)6.646.356.796.98

Source: Gordon and McDonald (1984) Unpublished

P.G. Jennings

La industria del azúcar sigue siendo el subsector agrícola predominante en la economía de Jamaica, ya que en 1985 aportó más de 70 millones de dólares en concepto de ingresos de exportación y dio empleo a 50 000 personas.

Aunque desde hace tiempo se considera que la producción comercial pecuaria representa una alternativa viable al azúcar en los cañaverales marginales, ha habido pocas novedades en este sector. Sin embargo, tradicionalmente la caña ha aportado una contribución a la producciópecuaria. Aproximadamente el 22 por ciento de la producción total de melaza, que es el principal producto utilizado por la industria ganadera, se utiliza en la fabricación de piensos compuestos. La disponibilidad de otros subproductos como el bagazo y los cogollos de caña está limitada por la contracción de la industria. Estudios experimentales de la técnica de separación de la caña realizados recientemente han demostrado también la viabilidad técnica de utilizar la médula a la que se ha extraído el jugo como componente de piensos completos para rumiantes.

Se dispone de una base considerable de datos sobre la alimentación animal a base de caña procedentes de otras investigaciones llevadas a cabo en Jamaica y en la región. Sin embargo, su aplicación comercial ha sido lenta.

La tendencia actual de los países a la autosuficiencia alimentaria da nuevo relieve al gran potencial de expansión de la industria ganadera basada en la alimentación durante todo el año a base de caña mediante una redistribución de las tierras que actualmente se utilizan de manera poco rentable para la producción de azúcar.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page