SUGAR company Illovo on Thursday said the 38% increase in operating profit from R620.2m last year to R854m could be attributed to the "excellent rainfall" in KwaZulu-Natal, which broke the drought in the early parts of the year.

"We have benefited from better marketing conditions for sugar ... we expect this positive momentum throughout the remaining financial season," said Illovo MD Graham Clark this morning.

He said the sugar season started well with Illovo’s production up by 17%. "We expect this positive momentum to (last) through the year," he said.

Profit after tax rose from R747.2m to R972.7m, which resulted in a 29% improvement in headline earnings, which increased from R289.2m to R377m.

Mr Clark said it was anticipated cane production would be higher than in the previous year, with sucrose levels across the group returning to more normal levels. On a seasonal basis, the contribution to operating profit included sugar production at 60% and sugar-cane growing at 34%.

This meant a total of 10.9-million tons of cane were crushed in the half year, indicating an increase of 10% more cane than last year in the same period.