Cane Thumpers – making a clean cutJuly 24, 2020 1:09 pm
The first cut is the deepest or less corny – the cleanest – in our case. As soon as it was clear that we would be growing our own sugarcane, we had to think about how to effectively harvest it. Traditionally sugarcane is cut by hand with a machete or a cutlass – as we call this all-purpose farming tool in Grenada. The little sugarcane that was still grown on the island prior to the arrival of CaneCo followed this very method, but we set out to try something different.
Finding the right kit
CaneCo is a comparatively small cane grower. We knew that big machinery made for long, flat sugarcane fields as common in Australia or South Africa wouldn’t work well here. We needed a machine suitable for our local farming conditions. Ideally something small, manoeuvrable and easy to fix. A simple ‘tool’ upgrade for our workers, who are accustomed to working with the cutlass. Our ‘mastermind of machines‘ Ollie found what we needed in form of a wieldy, little cutter of German make used in Jamaica: the cane thumper.
Following Ollie’s research, we procured two of these from Jamaica and have since stocked up to four cane thumpers in total. Used by one worker at a time and rotated around the team, the cane thumper cuts the sugarcane neatly at the base of the stem. Under ideal conditions our teams can harvest up to 80 tonnes of sugarcane a day using this method. Ideal conditions… meaning that the terrain is flat and the sugarcane is straight and clean (detrashed), which brings us to a few little caveats.
One of the obstacles for the cane thumper can be the age of the sugarcane at harvest. It is best to cut the cane at 9 – 10 months maturity. As time goes on, the sugarcane stems start to bend or even fall over becoming a bit unwieldy for machine harvesting. The knock on effects of unforeseen delays with the build of the Renegade Rum Distillery and the lockdown measures during Covid-19, have given some of our sugarcane a little more time in the field than we would ordinarily plan for.
Another challenge is the terrain of our farms. Our fields are spread over Grenada’s majestic volcanic hills and slopes – pretty to look at, but not always easy to harvest. During the latest harvest season our teams had to tackle this issue by using the tried and tested – the cutlass. And to be fair, our workers seem to revel in the camaraderie of moving together to the rhythm of the cutlass. Having learned from our setbacks, we encourage both our more modern method wherever suitable and playing by the rules of pragmatism whenever necessary.
Caveats aside and the initial kinks being ironed out, we look forward to the next growing and harvest season. With the distillery in full swing, we will be able to improve our harvest timing and see much more action of our cane thumpers on farms like the Nursery, Westerhall, Old Bacolet, Pearls, Dunfermline, River Antoine and our brand new organic farm in Meadows.
Then we can also fully capitalise on the best thing about the cane thumper, the ability to harvest our cane by a single cut to the base. Why is that so essential? Making one clean cut avoids kickstarting unwanted fermentation and reducing the surface area for bacteria ingress. That way we have better control over the quality of the sugarcane we deliver to the distillery and the ultimate goal of producing the world’s most profound rum.