May 7, 2019 / 2:37 PM / 3 months ago

Brazil cane crush gathers pace after slow start; yields rising

JABOTICABAL/GUARIBA, Brazil, May 7 (Reuters) - Brazil’s new sugar and ethanol season has gained speed after a slow start to cane crushing, and initial production data from the fields indicate that volumes could be in the higher end of analysts’ forecasts.

Reuters visited farms in the last days, talking to millers and field managers in the main cane belt around the Ribeirão Preto region, collecting information on current operations and expectations for coming months.

Brazil’s center-south, the world’s largest cane producing region, crushed less cane in the season ended in March, at 573 million tonnes, the third consecutive year of falling cane processing. This was mostly the result of lower crop care and ageing fields.

Most analysts were expecting a similar volume for the new crop, according to a Reuters poll, with a range of 565-585 million tonnes.

But favorable rains in March and April seem to have boosted expectations. Some mills sped up processing lately as a precautionary measure to be able to have time to process the whole crop in the case volumes get bigger ahead.

“We increased the rhythm a bit. Yields are improving and we don’t want to run the risk of not being able to crush the whole crop in the ideal period,” said Sergio de Paula Eduardo, planning manager for the Santa Adelia group, which has three mills in Sao Paulo state.

The company still works with a conservative projection to crush up to 5.5 million tonnes in the new season, 200,000 tonnes less than in the previous crop, due to the harsh dry spell late last year, but Eduardo said from the firm’s Jaboticabal headquarters that there is a chance that number changes upwards.

The situation is similar in neighboring cane fields at Bonfim mill, owned by industry leader Raízen.

According to a supervisor who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak for the company, the mill targets production of 96 tonnes of cane per hectare in the current crop, compared with 83 tonnes last season.

He said the mill expects to crush 5.5 million tonnes this year, up from 5.2 million tonnes last season. “By what we have seen so far, the fields are in better condition,” he said from one of the farms that supplies the plant.

Luís Arakaki, owner of Alcoeste mill in Fernandópolis, says he expects to crush 2 million tonnes versus 1.7 million tonnes last season. “Cane is looking good, I will have higher volumes,” he said.

But indeed some plants have decided to delay the start of the crop, as Reuters reported earlier.

“We started crushing on May 1st, around a month later than normal,” said Alberto Jose Otoya Dussan, a director at Vale do Paraná mill, owned by the Guatemalan group Pantaleon.

He said the company decided to let cane fields benefit from late moisture, which he thinks was the right decision.

“The fields are looking good now, we are having an average yield of 85 tonnes per hectare, which is more than we did last crop.”

Santa Adelia’s Eduardo said one of their mills, in Sud Mennucci, Sao Paulo state, would start crushing on Tuesday, much later than normal, for the same reasons cited by Dussan. (Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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