November 8, 2011

Sugarcane Being Developed for the Colder, Dryer Areas of S. Brazil

A consortium of state and federal research organization are developing new sugarcane varieties that can thrive in colder and dryer areas of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. Since sugarcane production is currently very limited in the state, research is being conducted on all aspects of sugarcane production including: soil fertility, soil preparation, nitrogen fixation, production practices, and the infrastructure needed to produce and process the sugarcane.

It is anticipated that the sugarcane produced in the state will be used for the production of ethanol. The state is currently deficit in ethanol production and the fuel must be transported into the state from Parana or Sao Paulo at a high cost. Producing sugarcane within the state would give farmers an additional option in their crop selection as well as reduce the cost of ethanol for motorists within the state.

Researchers had originally set a goal of developing sugarcane varieties suitable for the state that were as productive as sugarcane currently being grown in the state of Sao Paulo, but they have already surpassed that goal. In small demonstration areas, they have already achieved sugarcane yields of 85 to 90 tons per acre, which is equal to or superior to yields currently being achieved in the state of Sao Paulo, which is the largest sugarcane producing state in Brazil.

The soils in Rio Grande do Sul are not as fertile as the soils in Sao Paulo so a lot of research is being conducted on how to reduce potential fertilization costs in the state. In that light, researchers are working on improving the nitrogen fixation capacity of the new sugarcane varieties. At the State Research Foundation for Crop and Livestock Production in Rio Grande do Sul (FEPAGRO), they have identified new nitrogen fixing bacteria that could reduce fertilizer costs for sugarcane production. These bacteria can take nitrogen from the air and convert it into nitrogen that the sugarcane plant can utilize; similar to what occurs in soybean production. With these nitrogen fixing bacteria, the cost of nitrogen fertilizer for sugarcane production would be greatly reduced.

Most of the research is still in the testing phase, but by the end of 2012, researchers hope to have a preliminary plan in place that they can present to the farmers in the state interested in exploring sugarcane production.

Sugarcane production in Brazil has declined for several years in a row due to inclement weather and a lack of investments in renovation of existing sugarcane production. Brazil needs to greatly expand its ethanol production in the coming years to just keep up with the domestic demand. More than 90% of the new cars in Brazil are flex fuel vehicles that can utilize gasoline, ethanol, or any combination of the two.