The cane harvest in Brazil's key sugar production region
will end 2012-13 more than 40m tonnes higher year on year, defying early-season
cautions, and looks set for further growth in the next campaign.
Unica, the cane industry group, said that by the end of
December, with "the current harvest almost closed", mills in Brazil's Centre
South region had crushed 531.4m tonnes of cane.
The figure compares with 493.2m tonnes in 2011-12, and is
well above levels expected six months ago, after rains slowed the cane harvest
to a crawl.
Czarnikow was in July one of the more upbeat commentators in
suggesting a 505m-tonne harvest, with some analysts, such as Macquarie,
foreseeing a drop in cane production on the cards.
However, extended drier weather allowed mills to overhaul
last season's record.
In December, when most mills have usually closed for the season,
enough stayed open this time to lift the cane crush above 20,000 tonnes – more than
five times the level a year before.
Sugar vs ethanol
In fact, only 10 mills remained open as of the start of this
month, meaning that "the cumulative grind so far is pretty much the final
number" for the season, Antonio de Padua Rodrigues, Unica technical director,
The impact of early-season rains was evident, besides in the
larger-than-feared yields, in a slightly lower level of recoverable sugars, down
1.4% at 135.6 kilogrammes per tonne of cane.
Sugar production for the season had reached 34.1m tonnes, and
accounted for 49.6% of the crop, slightly higher than the 48.4% level seen last
season, with the balance going to produce ethanol.
However, the proportion of cane used to make sugar fell
below 45% last month.
While this figure was not significant in terms of the total
2012-13 results, the use of cane is being closely watched by investors amid
talk that lower sugar prices are making ethanol more attractive for mills, and
with ideas of government measures later this year to boost consumption of the
Prospects for 2013-14
While the Centre South cane crush will not begin again in
earnest until April, there is already talk of a slightly bigger harvest this
year, as new sowings mature, and with last year's wet spell seen as having
longer-term beneficial effects.
Rubens Ometto, head of the board at Cosan, Brazil's top
sugar and ethanol milling company, on Thursday pegged the Centre South cane harvest
in 2013-14 at 600m tonnes.
The Centre South typically accounts for some 90% of Brazil's
overall cane output.
Safras e Mercado has also pegged the Centre South harvest at 600m tonnes,
with Datagro foreseeing a 580m-590m-tonne crop.