* Harvest weather conditions near perfect

* Sugar content expected to pick as new cane is crushed

* Left over cane from 2010 poor quality

SYDNEY, July 27 (Reuters) - Australia's 2011 sugar crush is starting to gather pace with nearly a quarter of the crop now harvested, industry officials said on Wednesday.

Australia is the world's third largest sugar exporter and is likely to harvest around 30 million tonnes of cane, up from last year's rain affected 27.5 million tonnes, but still below a typical harvest of 33 million tonnes.

"The harvest is going well as we started early as the cane growers kicked things (off) a little bit faster this year as they're worried about rain," said Steve Greenwood, chief executive of the Canegrowers organisation.

The organisation represents canegrowers in the north-east tropical state of Queensland, where more than 90 percent of the country's cane is grown.

New York's October raw sugar price on ICE is up slightly around 30.95 cents a lb around 0845 GMt on Wednesday, supported by lower-than-expected production in Brazil, the world's top sugar exporter.

"Prices are really good at the moment as all indications are that the Brazilian crop may even go lower although the market may have already factored that in," said Greenwood.

Earlier this month Brazil's sugar industry organisation Unica cut its forecast for the 2011/12 cane crush by 6 percent, citing low yields from aging plants.

In Australia harvesting started in May, with the cutting of cane that was left uncut last year when the harvest became bogged down by heavy rain and floods. There was around 6 million tonnes of stand-over cane left over from last season, much of which was poor quality.

This week Rabobank estimated this year's crush, expected to be completed by mid-December, would yield 4.1 million tonnes.

The bank estimated 2011/12 exports at 2.8 million tonnes, higher than the government's chief commodities forecaster's June estimate of around 2.5 million tonnes.

"Rabobank estimate is probably a little bit courageous but overall the harvest is going well and we're nearly finished with the stand over (uncut) cane from last year," said Greenwood.

In a normal season exports are usually around 3.3 million to 3.4 million tonnes but last year's crop was damaged by rain, reducing exports to around 2.4 million tonnes.

To date 7.2 million tonnes of cane has been harvested with an average contained content of sugar (CCS) of 12.0 percent, below average quality cane at 14.34 percent CCS.

"Some of that stand over cane has been really difficult in terms of milling it and crushing rates have been slow - as we go through the early harvest there's ups and downs with the stand over cane and sugar content has been low," said Dominic Nolan, chief executive of the Australian Sugar Milling Council.

"We are starting to see a little bit of the one-year cane coming through now and that is lifting the CCS and helping to improve the speed of the mills," Nolan.

The council raised its estimate of the 2011/12 crush to just over 30 million tonnes from last week's forecast of 29.5 million tonnes.

source: reuters

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