Sugarcane farmers in the Mekong Delta are facing losses because of low prices while authorities and sugar mills are struggling to persuade farmers to continue growing the crop.

Ho Thanh Kiet, head of the Cu Lao Dung district's Agriculture and Rural Development Bureau in Soc Trang province, said sugarcane prices remain low for a consecutive second year, causing farmers losses.

"Therefore, many farmers will stop growing sugarcane after this harvest," he said.

In the district, which has the largest area under sugarcane in Soc Trang, farmers have harvested more than 600ha out of the 8,200ha of the crop. Traders now offer a price of 850-890 VND (0.039-0.041 USD) per kilo of sugarcane that has 10CCS (commercial content sugar).

Cane prices are low because of declining sugar prices caused by large inventories and an increase in smuggled sugar.

Truong Van Hien, chairman of the 200-Tonne Sugarcane Club in Phung Hiep district's Hiep Hung commune in Hau Giang province, said local authorities and farmers have worked together to improve sugarcane quality and yield over the past years. The club's members achieve a high yield of 200 tonnes per hectare, he said.

Nguyen The Tu, head of the Phung Hiep Agriculture and Rural Development Bureau, said sugarcane is the district's key crop but prices have been unstable over the past few years.

This year farmers have suffered an average loss of 12 million VND (570 USD) per hectare, he said, adding that t he area under the crop is likely to fall during the next sugarcane crop. Phuong Phu commune alone has reported that the area would shrink by 500ha.

Tu said the district plans to keep the sugarcane-growing area at 5,000ha in the long term, but it would have to invest more in mechanisation and high-yield sugarcane strains to reduce production costs.

At the beginning of each crop, farmers should plant other crops along with sugarcane in the same fields to earn more income, he added.

In provinces like Long An, Ca Mau, Kien Giang and Tra Vinh, many sugarcane farmers have already switched to other crops.

In Long An, many have started to grow lime, which fetches a profit of 100-200 million VND per hectare.

Le Minh Duc, director of the Long An Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the province plans to keep the area under sugarcane at 13,000ha in Ben Luc, Duc Hoa, Duc Hue and Thu Thua districts to supply the province's two sugar mills.

But agriculture departments in several delta provinces warned that if sugarcane prices are low and demand is unstable, the area under the crop would continue to shrink, and mills would face a shortage of cane.

In Tra Vinh, local authorities in conjunction with the Tra Vinh Sugar Company have rolled out policies to support sugarcane farmers during the next crop.

Farmers who sign contracts to sell to the company will get on credit 8-10 tonnes of sugarcane stem cuttings, 2,600kg of fertilisers, 25-35kg of pesticides and an advance of 12 million VND per hectare.

Nguyen Hien, the company's director, said experts have predicted that sugarcane prices would not increase any time soon.

The country expects to produce around 1.6 million tonnes of sugar in the 2013-14 season, while demand is around 1.3 million tonnes, according to the Vietnam Sugarcane and Sugar Association.-VNA