Weather impacts Brazil's latest sugarcane crop

By Kris Bevill | July 20, 2011

An evaluation recently completed by UNICA, Brazil’s sugarcane industry association, along with several other Brazilian associations has concluded that the country’s 2011-’12 sugarcane harvest will be smaller than originally predicted and will result in decreased ethanol production. The group estimates that 533.5 million tons of cane will be crushed this harvest, compared to 556.94 million tons crushed in the 2010-’11 season. As expected, a slight majority of the cane harvest is expected to be directed toward ethanol production rather than sugar, but both products will lose some capacity. “Basically, the new crushing and ATR [total recoverable sugars] levels should translate into a reduction of 2.2 million tons of sugar and nearly 3 billion liters of ethanol compared to the initial projection for this season,” said Antonio de Padua Rodrigues, UNICA’s technical director.

Weather is mostly to blame for the weaker harvest numbers, according to the evaluation. Regions of the country battled dry weather during the summer months last year, and a warmer than average May this year, followed by frost in June. In some areas the sugarcane flowered, which reduces the plants’ production of sugars. Weather may continue to be a factor in the coming months as growers continue to keep an eye on possible mold and rust attacks as a result of excess moisture. “The situation requires continuous monitoring of field conditions over the next three months, during which about 45 percent of overall production will take place,” Rodrigues said, adding that additional adjustments to the total harvest forecast will be made as necessary.

Despite the reduced harvest expectations, UNICA and others believe Brazil will be able to produce enough ethanol to meet its own demands. About 22.54 billion liters of ethanol is expected to be produced this season - 13.99 billion liters of hydrated ethanol and 8.55 billion liters of anhydrous ethanol - which is enough to supply the country’s 25 percent ethanol blend mandate, UNICA stated. Exports of Brazilian ethanol will likely drop, however, perhaps up to nearly 25 percent. UNICA expects about 1.35 billion liters of ethanol produced from the 2011-’12 harvest to be exported.

The Brazilian government and industry stakeholders have been involved in regular meetings to discuss the federal ethanol blend mandate and possible supply shortages in the future, UNICA stated. Additionally, the biofuels division of Petrobras, Brazil’s integrated energy firm, said recently that it will open one new ethanol distillery soon and expand others in order to keep up with domestic ethanol demands. On July 15, Petrobras Biocombustivel said it currently has about 1 billion liters (approximately 264 MMGY) of annual ethanol capacity and about 720 million liters (190 MMgy) of annual biodiesel capacity, up from just 170 million liters of annual biodiesel production when it was established three years ago.