January 25, 2013

Sweet Sorghum Complements Ethanol Production in Brazil

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Monsanto has joined with Case IH and Novozymes in launching a program to promote the use of sweet sorghum as a way to generate additional income for producers during the inter-harvest period when sugarcane is not available for processing and during times when Brazilian sugarcane fields are being replanted. The program will showcase the use of sweet sorghum in five ethanol mills in Sao Paulo and Goias. At each mill, they have planted 20 hectares of sweet sorghum in experimental plots to demonstrate the potential of the crop to produce ethanol.

Sweet sorghum is not being promoted as a competitor to sugarcane, but rather as a partner with sugarcane to keep the mills running for more months of the year and to avoid an entire year without any income from a sugarcane field that is being replanted. Sugarcane needs to be replanted every five or six years in order to maintain its productivity and the fast growing sweet sorghum would be grown at the start of that renovation process. The sweet sorghum would be planted in October or November after the sugarcane harvest is complete. The sorghum would then be harvested in March or April after which the new crop of sugarcane would be planted.

One of the reasons why sugarcane producers in Brazil are sometimes reluctant to replant their sugarcane is because there is no income from that field for the first year after replanting. The use of sweet sorghum could partially solve that problem for producers. The production of sweet sorghum could also be important for mill operators because they could process the sorghum during months when sugarcane is not available. Generally, the sugarcane harvest ends in December and resumes in April during which time the mills are not operating.

Operating the mills for just an additional month or two would generate additional income for the mill and help to spread out the cost of running the mill while at the same time making more efficient use of the labor force at the mill. Researchers feel that sweet sorghum has the potential to produce 2,500 liters of ethanol per hectare.

The sweet sorghum variety being used by Monsanto is CV 568. The variety was first released to the public in 2012 and it is now commercially available.

Case IH became involved in the project because they are a major manufacture of planting and harvesting machinery used in sugarcane production. Their intension is to showcase new technologies and the improved efficiency of their machinery.

Novozymes is a leading producer of enzymes that are used in the processing of sweet sorghum into ethanol. The enzymes being used in this program allows the mill to process the entire sorghum plant resulting in increased efficiency and higher ethanol yields.