Cane processing in Brazil's Centre South staged a sharp recovery to rise above year-ago levels for the first time in 2012-13 – but a hangover from excessive rains still threatens to limit sugar output.
Mills in the region, responsible for nearly 90% of Brazil's sugar output, processed 42.18m tonnes of cane in the first half of July – a rise of 3.9% year on year.
"For the first time this season, the grind surpassed that of the same period of the 2011-12 harvest," Antonio de Padua Rodrigues, Unica's interim president, said.
The improvement was down to an easing in rains which, while hampering harvesting so far this season, have been seen as likely to boost cane yields.
Indeed, yields have risen to more than 80 tonnes per hectare for the July 1-15 period, up 12.1% year on year, and above the average of 76.7 tonnes per hectare so far this season.
"The trend observed so far points to a higher productivity than that estimated by Unica in April," Mr Rodrigues said.
'Decrease in sugars'
However, reduced sugar concentration in cane, blamed on "heavy rains" in May and June, meant that despite the increase in cane processing volumes, the amount of product available for turning into sugar or ethanol eased 0.2%.
"The amount of products obtained from cane sugar remained practically stable," Mr Rodrigues said.
The volume of sugar produced, at 2.64m tones, rose 1.9% year on year, below the rise in cane processing volumes.
"We observe a decrease in the concentration of sugars in the raw material," Mr Rodrigues said, estimating that the average level over 2012-13 could come in at 135 kilogrammes per tonne of cane, down 5 kilogrammes on Unica's initial estimate.
The comments helped raw sugar futures recover losses to return to positive territory in New York in lunchtime deals, if only by 0.01 cents for the October lot, taking it to 23.50 cents a pound.
A spell of drier weather has revived optimism over the Brazilian Centre South cane harvest, with consultancy Safras & Mercado on Tuesday lifting its estimate for the crop by 20m tonnes to 520m tonnes.
Brazil's total cane output, including the north east, will harvest 613m tonnes of cane, an upgrade of 23m tonnes, the consultancy said.
Czarnikow said last week that, thanks to the boost to cane yields from rain, "Brazil is now in a better position to deliver an improved crop than it was at the start of the season".