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SAO PAULO, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Raizen, Brazil's largest cane processor, said it lost five days of crushing operations in September due to widespread rains, but remained hopeful to reach its guidance and process around 61 million tonnes in the 2015/16 season, vice-president of operations Pedro Mizutani said on Tuesday.
He said crushing numbers for the first half of September to be released by cane industry group Unica in the coming days would possibly show a number below 30 million tonnes for the center-south, as some market players were expecting.
"We are behind the schedule after these September rains, which we didn't expect," Mizutani told reporters on the sidelines of Datagro's sugar and ethanol conference. "I hope we don't see any more rains this month."
Mizutani said Raizen, a joint venture between Brazil's Cosan and Royal-Dutch Shell, would certainly extend crushing beyond November, when the crop would usually end in the center-south, to be able to crush most of the mature cane.
"But this has a limit. We will not hurt the fields trying to operate longer than we should. When the weather makes it inadequate to continue, we will stop," he said, referring to the compaction of soil that harvesters can cause in wet weather.
Brazil is shifting into its rainy season that peaks in December through March, when mills typically shut down.
Mizutani said Brazil's center-south would have potential to crush up to 610 million tonnes of cane this season if December was a month with zero rains, but he sees that as nearly impossible in light of El Nino. "We will probably crush 590 million tonnes this season."
For the next crop, he does not see conditions for an increase in crushing, unless rains from November to February are very favorable.
If the climate is dry, the new crop could be as low as 570 million tonnes, he said.
Mizutani said Raizen has no intention of buying other milling groups, taking the opportunity of the worsening financial crisis and heavy debt loads in the industry.
"We already have spare capacity. Our focus now is on improving yields, efficiency," he said. (Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Reese Ewing and David Gregorio)