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Brazil's sugar exports to hit record with ease

Brazil's sugar exports are to soar above 29m tonnes, easily setting a record, US farm officials said, backing expectations of a bumper cane harvest despite poor conditions in the north east.

US Department of Agriculture officials in Brasilia forecast sugar exports from Brazil, the top producer and shipper of the sweetener, hitting 29.3m tonnes in 2013-14, for which the cane crush has just begun.

That number, which the USDA staff was needed "to meet projected international demand", would easily surpass the current record of 25.8m tonnes reached in 2010-11, although that high may have been surpassed in 2012-13.

Strong shipments ahead are expected to be supported by a sugar cane harvest which, at least in the key Centre South district, will hit a record high too.

And the forecast of strong exports supports the idea of easy supplies which sent New York raw sugar futures last week to their lowest since July 2010.

North vs South

The Brasilia bureau forecast the Centre South cane crop hitting 585m tonnes, a number towards the lower end of the range expected by other commentators, but still representing a 9.8% jump year on year.

Brazil Centre South cane and (sugar) production forecasts, 2013-14

Conab: 594m tonnes, (39.2m tonnes)

Macquarie: 590m tonnes, (35.5m tonnes)

Unica: 589.6m tonnes, (35.5m tonnes)

USDA attache: 585m tonnes, (36.35m tonnes)

Datagro: 584.5m tonnes, (35.4m tonnes)

The increase is "due to higher agricultural yields as a result of good weather conditions and adequate renewal of sugar cane stocks", the bureau said.

However, they cautioned over a far smaller harvest in Brazil's North East than some other analysts, foreseeing it dropping for a second successive season, to 55.0m tonnes "due to weather-related problems, drought, that affected growing regions".

Conab, Brazil's official crop bureau, besides some private forecasters such as Macquarie have pencilled in a North East cane harvest of 64m tonnes.

'Disappointing rains'

The figures from the USDA bureau reduce to 8.6% the North East contribution to the overall Brazilian cane harvest, down from 11.8% two seasons ago.

The region is in the grip of a drought billed as the worst in 50 years, forcing an aid effort which has seen Conab raise to 170,000 tonnes, from 40,000 tonnes, monthly corn shipments to support livestock farmers.

"Summer rains in north eastern Brazil were disappointing and not heavy enough to produce even a meagre corn crop," Michael Cordonnier at Soybean and Corn Advisor said.

While the region's main cane producing state of Alagoas has been hit less hard than much of the rest of the region, farmers in second-ranked Pernambuco have been badly affected.

Sugar vs ethanol

The USDA bureau estimated Brazilian sugar output in 2013-14 at 40.4m tonnes, a figure again below the Conab figure, of 43.6m tonnes, but in line with forecasts from some private commentators.

Output from the Centre South was pegged at 36.35m tonnes, a rise of more than 5% from the 2012-13 result.

The forecasts assumed that mills will convert 48% of cane to sugar, and 52% to ethanol, as changes to ethanol taxes and regulation improve the appeal of the biofuel.

"Sugar-ethanol mills are likely to increase ethanol production due to an expected increase in the ethanol content blended with gasoline," the bureau said.

"Additionally, the international sugar market has not been particularly attractive compared to previous seasons."

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