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February 7, 2013

Mato Grosso do Sul First State to Mechanize Sugarcane Harvesting

The state of Mato Grosso do Sul will be the first state in Brazil to fully mechanize the harvest of sugarcane in Brazil. Currently, 94% of the sugarcane in the state is mechanically harvested and that is expected to essentially be 100% within a few years.

Not only is mechanical harvesting more efficient, it is also better for the environment. When sugarcane is harvested by hand, the leaves are generally burned off ahead of time allowing for easier hand harvesting. The resulting smoke from the burning sugarcane fields caused significant air pollution and respiratory problems for the local population. Compounding the problem is the fact that most sugarcane is harvested in Brazil during the dry season when the atmosphere is stable. The resulting high pressure tends to hold the pollution near the surface and it impedes the formation of any rain systems that could "wash out"Mt the atmosphere.

The statewide legislation, which was passed in 2007, called for the gradual elimination of hand harvesting by 2016, but the sugarcane producers in Mato Grosso do Sul have accelerated the conversion. There are exceptions to the mandatory mechanical harvesting for small sugarcane plots or steep slopes where mechanical harvesting is not feasible.

Over the last eight years, the sugarcane production in the state has increased 280% from 9.7 million tons in 2004/05 to 37 million tons in 2012/13. The state is the fifth largest sugarcane producer in Brazil behind Sao Paulo (330 million tons), Minas Gerais (52 million tons), Goias (53 million tons), and Parana (40 million tons).

Conab estimates that 87% of the new sugarcane production in the state came from the conversion of pastureland to sugarcane production. Sugarcane production occupies 684,000 hectares in the state, which corresponds to only 3% of the agricultural land in the state.

The increased use of mechanical harvesting reduces the costs for the producers, but it also eliminates thousands of low skill jobs for rural residents. In order to preserve rural jobs, some municipalities in Brazil are limiting the amount of sugarcane that is permitted to be grown in the municipality. Local officials have seen their rural economies severely impacted when large portions of their municipality were taken over by sugarcane production.

It has also been announced that Mato Grosso do Sul will be the site of a new research center for the use of biomass in the production of renewable energy. The center will be located in the city of Tres Lagoas, which is on the eastern edge of the state bordering the state of Sao Paulo. The R$ 61.5 million project is a collaboration between federal, state and private organizations. The center will conduct research into the use of biomass for the production of renewable energy, animal rations, chemical and industrial residues, and pharmaceutical products, among others. Groundbreaking for the center is scheduled for next week.