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SP expands sugarcane productivity with technology, research and favorable climate

Sugarcane is among the 17 of the 29 main agricultural crops in São Paulo that will have an increase in productivity compared to last year, according to the most recent forecast from the Institute of Agricultural Economics of São Paulo (IEA), a State Government body.

With more technology and cutting-edge research, state agribusiness is producing more per cultivated hectare, which also provides cost savings in the field.

São Paulo leads sugar-energy production in Brazil, which is the largest producer in the world. In the first seven months of 2023, the sector leads agricultural exports in São Paulo, reaching US$4.85 billion – sugar represented 87% of the total. The growth was US$1.07 billion compared to the same period, when exports reached US$3.78 billion.

The most profitable crop in terms of value exported by São Paulo's agricultural sector, sugarcane has seen an increase of 2.2% in production so far in the 2023/24 harvest. If last year the harvested average was 76.8 tons of sugarcane per hectare, sugarcane production in São Paulo now reaches 78.5 tons in the same area.

The improvement is closely linked to the logistical, scientific and technological structure of São Paulo, combined with a favorable climate, explains Mauro Xavier, director of the Sugarcane Center of the Agronomic Institute (IAC) of the State Department of Agriculture and Supply.

According to him, it is possible to summarize the key factors for the success of São Paulo production in five. One of them is the logistics infrastructure, with abundant and varied transport modes that include the Port of Santos, the main sugar export hub in Brazil.

The presence of large supply hubs for the sugarcane processing industry in the regions of Ribeirão Preto, Sertãozinho, Piracicaba and Araçatuba is also an aspect in favor of São Paulo's agriculture. São Paulo has 171 sugar-energy plants, almost half of the 360 ​​in operation in Brazil.

São Paulo also has important technological and scientific research and development institutions associated with large universities, such as USP, Unesp and Unicamp. The application of cutting-edge technology and the high qualification of labor for the sector improve the quality of production in crops and also in the agroindustry, increasing the added value of agriculture in São Paulo.

The professor also highlights the work of private associations and cooperatives in the sector, such as the Sugarcane and Bioenergy Industry Union (UNICA), Coopersucar, the National Bioenergy Union and the Organization of Sugarcane Producers Associations in Brazil. The institutions represent a large number of producers who supply the processing plants.

In the current harvest, São Paulo also benefited from a good rainfall season with volume and distribution, which made it possible to cultivate sugar cane with less mechanized irrigation. “Being able to do this in rainfed areas is a natural contribution from the environment”, explains Xavier.

According to the professor, São Paulo's topography allows for standardized mechanization of agricultural processes from soil preparation to harvesting. This increases production yield and also reduces environmental impacts, as it eliminates the process of burning sugarcane for harvesting.

Genetical enhancement

An important focus of research in São Paulo is genetic improvement. Since 1933, the IAC has developed a program to improve sugarcane varieties. Research is important to deliver varieties with more tolerance to pests and diseases and updated to the needs of modern industry, says Xavier.

The researcher explains that another objective is to increase the quantity of culms – the stem that connects the roots to the leaves – of sugarcane per hectare, with an ideal of 85 thousand to 100 thousand. “Our focus is on varieties with a high capacity to maintain the stem population throughout the cuts with greater longevity”, he explains.

Planted sugarcane is usually used for up to five cultivation cycles, on average. With each harvest, the cane is cut and grows again for the next harvest. Genetic improvement and agronomic management contribute to increasing the longevity of sugarcane fields, which helps to dilute production costs.

Research is also looking for other improvements, such as increasing the potential for sucrose accumulation and identifying varieties with more upright growth to reduce the amount of impurities in plants. “The biggest cost to produce a ton of sugar is in the agricultural processes. So, when we change agricultural costs, the final impact is big”, says the expert.

Expanding market

The forecast for this year's sugarcane harvest in São Paulo is 417 million tons. The cities that produce the most are Barretos, Orlândia, Jaboticabal, Ribeirão Preto, São José do Rio Preto, Votuporanga, Araraquara, Jaú, Lins and Limeira.

The cultivation of the plant generates more than 55 thousand formal jobs in São Paulo, according to data from Novo Caged. Sugar manufacturing and refining employs another 130,000 people with a formal contract, in addition to more than 43,000 in ethanol manufacturing.



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