Sugar cane day was one of the most interesting days of the trip.
They used to burn the canes before harvesting, but at this farm, they use this giant chopping machine. It has a chopper arm that stays about 6 feet above the ground to chop off the top of the canes, and a chopper on the bottom that cuts the canes near the ground and sends them through the machine to chop into 6 inch pieces. There is still much sugar can harvested by hand. This was the only machine like this in this part of the country.
One of the workers grabs a machete and opens up some cane for us to taste. It was really quite sweet and fibrous.
Next we visited a sugar mill. This mill is a co-op that has been in existence since the ’40s. Here a farmer comes to the mill with a load of sugar cane.
Farmers are paid on the weight and quality of the canes. This machine drills into the load and retrieves a sample.
The sample is collected and brought to an onsite lab for evaluation and ultimate payment to the farmer.
The canes are stored in piles awaiting processing.
The first step is to load the canes into this giant conveyor. When the bundles are dropped by the crane, a guy runs out on top of the moving canes and unhooks the chains holding the bundles.
The first step inside the mill is this giant chopper.
A secondary chopper further reduces the cane.
The whole series of choppers follows down this line.
Looks like solid state technology on the control panel!
Finally, the sugar is separated and liquefied and brought to a new part of the mill.
Large vats of bubbling liquid are part of the next steps. It felt a little like going into a Willy Wonka factory gone bad. There were all kinds of open vats, exposed belts and gears, narrow walkways over chopping conveyor belts, steam escaping everywhere, open augers and spinning centrifuges. To top it off, we didn’t even have to remove our jewelry and rings!
Part of the mysterious part of the plant – large vats of heated and pressurized sugar. We couldn’t hear a thing throughout the tour.
A place where the process is checked by sampling the product.
Finally, a brown slurry come out and into a spinning centrifuge.
About 90 seconds in the centrifuge turns the sugar white and crystalline.
At the end of the line, Nicaraguans take the 120 lb bags off a conveyor belt and load them onto a truck.
The truck outside being loaded. We weren’t too sure what they had against pallets and forktrucks. At the next stop, these bags will also have to be unloaded by hand as well, but it will be much harder to reach down and lift them.