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August 2, 2013

Sugarcane Production in Southern Brazil Impacted by Cold Temps

Several consecutive nights of freezing temperatures in southern Brazil negatively impacted the sugarcane crop in the region. The most severe damage appears to have occurred on the nights of July 24th and 25th when some temperatures dipped into the low 20'Ss. The brunt of the damage occurred in the states of Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul with lessor damage occurring in Sao Paulo state.

The consulting firm Datagro estimates that 18% of the 365 million tons of sugarcane that remained to be harvested in Brazil suffered some level of losses. They estimate 15 to 16 million tons of sugarcane in Parana and 16 to 18 million tons in Mato Grosso do Sul was impacted. An estimated 30 million tons may have been impacted in Sao Paulo but it was not as cold as the other two states. Forty percent of the sugarcane harvest in southern Brazil has already been completed when the cold temperatures hit.

The temperatures dipped low enough that the growing point in some of the sugarcane was killed. When that happens, the plant stops growing and eventually dies. Recently killed sugarcane can still be harvested and processed if harvested in timely manner. As a result, mill operators are desperate to harvest the most severely affected sugarcane first to try to get it processed before it deteriorates past the point of usage. Trying to harvest the worst sugarcane first means that machinery needs to be moved around from field to field which increases harvest costs.

If the growing point of a recently planted sugarcane plant is killed, the plant must be replanted. This is a very expensive proposition because not only of the expense of replanting, but also the replanted sugarcane will go another year without any production. Therefore, damages from a freeze such as this can extend into the next growing season as well.

Heavier rains earlier in the harvest had already lowered the sucrose content of the sugarcane and now the freezing temperatures will lower it even more. Mill operators will use the damaged sugarcane to produce more ethanol instead of sugar because less sucrose makes crystallization more difficult.