Research aims to expand Brazil sugarcane acres further south

By Susanne Retka Schill | December 24, 2013

Brazil ethanol producers are looking for new areas for future expansion of sugarcane production. Petrobras signed a technical cooperation agreement with Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp., to develop sugarcane production in the country’s southern-most state, Rio Grande do Sul. “The project objective is to generate knowledge for increasing the production of sucarcane for the ethanol market,” the announcement said, “thereby contributing to the development of the state’s sugar-based agribusiness.”

Currently, very little sugarcane is grown in the southern state. Nearly 90 percent of Brazil’s sugarcane is grown in five south-central states centered around Sao Paolo where over half the nation’s crop is grown. The second largest sugarcane region in the country is in the northeast.

Rio Grande do Sul has a more temperate climate, being predominantly humid and subtropical with winter conditions bringing some freezing temperatures and snow in the subtropical highland elevations. The state’s agriculture is better known for grain production and ranching. In comparison, Sao Paulo is predominantly tropical, with higher elevations being subtropical.

The project, entitled "Technology for the sugar cane production system in the state of Rio Grande do Sul - Siscana RS" has been approved by the ANP (Brazil’s oil, gas and biofuel regulator) and will be funded by Petrobras, with the technical and scientific support of Cenpas, its research center. The research project will be conducted by Embrapa’s Temperate Climate Agricultural Research Center, located in the municipality of Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul state.

The partnership is a milestone for ethanol production in the state, which still imports ethanol to meet its own transportation needs, said Petrobras Biocombustível CEO Miguel Rossetto. "We produce oil and biofuels and are working to supply the market. This project is in alignment with our strategy for the regional production of biofuels and our investments in research are aimed at acquiring the knowledge that will enable us to more confidently analyze future investments."

The study will evaluate varieties of sugarcane that are better adapted to the soil and climate in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, taking into consideration the issues of productivity, pest resistance and tolerance to cold and drought. The project also aims to develop and recommend a production system model based on studies of fertilization and planting periods, among other regional factors. In addition, it will provide an agroclimatic zoning for cane sugar in a temperate climate.

Brazil is the largest producer of sugarcane in the world, producing about 25 percent of the word production and about half of world exports. The country produces about 20 percent of the world production of ethanol. Sugarcane is the world’s largest crop, cultivated on nearly 60 million acres in more than 90 countries in 2010.