Last week’s frosts in southern Brazil damaged nearly a fifth of the 365 million tonnes of centre-south sugar cane yet to be harvested, potentially curbing output from the world’s largest exporter, industry research company Datagro said on Wednesday.
Datagro President Plinio Nastari told Reuters that severe frost on July 24 and 25 in southern cane growing regions may have killed entire fields, which would likely need to be replanted.
“We don’t know how much of the affected 65 million tonnes of cane has been lost yet. We should know in about a week,” Nastari said by telephone. “We still need to test how deeply the frost impacted the cane. A field is not always uniformly affected.”
New York ICE front month sugar futures recovered from early morning losses soon after Reuters published news of the estimate to trade in positive territory in the early afternoon.
Nastari said some fields will likely rot before they can be harvested. He said frost killed the inner core, or gem, of cane plants in some areas.
“The most serious damage from the two days of frost occurred over 70 to 80 percent of the cane still standing in the states of Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul,” said Nastari.
He added that 15 million to 16 million tonnes in Parana and 16 million to 18 million tonnes in Mato Grosso do Sul were seriously affected.
The government’s crop supply agency, Conab, expects the two states to produce a total of nearly 90 million tonnes of cane from the current crop. The center-south cane crush is roughly 40 percent completed.
Nastari said an additional 30 million tonnes of cane in the Paranapanema Valley in Sao Paulo had been affected, but to a lesser degree with only lower slopes getting hit by the frost.
“In some cases the ratoons (shoots) were hit and will need to be replanted or you will lose yields when they grow back, so the impact from this frost will carry over into next year’s crop,” he added.
According to data published by Brazil’s cane industry association on July 24, the main center-south cane region in question has harvested 223 million tonnes of a nearly 590 million tonne crop. Unica made its 590 million tonne forecast in April and has since signaled it will reduce this forecast.
Market forecasts of the center-south cane output average about 585 million tonnes.
“A cane plant’s gem is its center of growth. When the frost kills the top gem of the plant, it stops growing and begins to die,” said Nastari, a PhD in agricultural economics from Iowa State University.
Nastari said it is not a problem if mills can harvest soon after the cane dies. But in this case, the frost was too extensive in Parana and Mato Grosso, as well as on some farms in southern Sao Paulo along the Paranapanema Valley.
“It will be too much for mills to reach before the plants begin to rot,” said Nastari. “Their costs will rise now because they will try to harvest on many fronts to try to reach the affected cane before it rots. This will require a lot of moving around of equipment, which raises costs.”
He said the cold that dropped near zero Celsius and below for at least two days last week, combined with rain, has also inverted the normal composition of sugars in the cane.
“Now we have more glucose and fructose and less sucrose in the cane, so mills will push ethanol production over sugar because they will have a hard time getting crystallization,” he adde