March is a month of transitions. In the North hemisphere it signals the transition from winter into spring (March 20th), in March we also see the sugarcane harvest season coming to an end in most of the cane growing areas around us. For the ancient Romans, the Ides of March initially referred to the date of the first full moon of the new year, meaning the transition from the old year into the new one. Ironically, the Ides of March are more frequently remembered today for the assassination of Julius Ceasar in 44 BC, which also marked a turning point between what we refer to today as the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.
But back to sugarcane. The end of the cane harvest season, much like the changing of the seasons, never means the end of work, simply the start of a different kind of work. For sugarcane mills, this is when clean-up and maintenance begin, much needed activities in today’s fast-paced and efficiency-driven milling operations. When the mills stop crushing cane, they also stop producing bagasse and, when they run out of bagasse to burn in the furnaces, most of them stop producing steam too.
The end of steam production at a sugar mill means that the constant humming of the boilers ceases and that the plumes of steam and ashes stop. While these are welcomed events for many, it also means that attached distilleries stop producing alcohol (unless if they burn other fuels) and that the mills stop producing their own electricity (and often the surplus electricity sold to the grid). Alcohol fermented and distilled between sugarcane harvests is, as you can imagine, more expensive than that produced during the harvest season. But the land, the equipment and the people involved seem to go on, unaffected by the change, marching on through March, preparing for the next transition.
Luis Ayala, Editor and Publisher