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May 20, 2013

New Method Promoted for Brazilian Sugarcane Renovation

Embrapa has begun promoting a new way to renovate sugarcane fields in Brazil. After the sugarcane is planted, it is harvested multiple times for five or six years and then it needs to be replanted. If the sugarcane is more than six years old, the yields start to decline approximately 10% for each year it is not replanted. Generally during the year that the sugarcane is replanted, there is no income from the field and the exposed soil is subject to high levels of erosion.

In order to address both of these issues, Embrapa is now promoting the planting of a quick maturing crop such as soybeans or peanuts early in the spring before the sugarcane is replanted. They have demonstrated that this alternative method of renovation has many advantages including: providing an income from the sale of the crop, improving the condition of the soil, eliminating invasive weeds, adding nitrogen to the soil, reducing fertilizer costs for subsequent sugarcane crop, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by less tilling of the soil, spreading out capital expediters and labor costs, and reducing soil erosion.

These crops are planted no-till into the sugarcane residue helping to greatly reduce potential soil erosion during the renovation period. It also helps to conserve soil moisture by keeping the surface covered with residue. Early maturing soybeans are the crop most likely to be used in this new system because it would allow enough time for the sugarcane to get established before the end of the summer rainy season. This new system is being promoted for sugarcane production in the states of Sao Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, and Goias.

Sugarcane production during the 2013/14 growing season in the state of Goias is expected to increase 11.5% to 58 million tons. According to the Agriculture and Livestock Federation of Goias, sugar production in the state is expected to decline 13% from 2.3 million tons to 2.0 million tons while ethanol production is expected to increase 9.3% from 3.2 billion liters to 3.5 billion liters. It is estimated that 72% of the sugarcane will be used for ethanol production.

These estimates were released during the inauguration of a new sugar/ethanol mill in Goias where they invested R$ 165 million in a mill capable of processing 850,000 tons of sugarcane per year. In the state of Goias there are now 37 sugar/ethanol mills. All the mills produce ethanol and 14 of the mills produce both ethanol and sugar.