Sugar-Cane Growers in Brazil's State of São Paulo Face Considerable Losses

SÃO PAULO—Sugar cane growers in Brazil's state of São Paulo are facing considerable losses, in terms of production and money, because of wildfires that are being exacerbated by a drought, sugar industry group Unica said on Tuesday.

Some of the fires were started intentionally, and illegally, while others are accidental, according to the organization.

Brazil is the world's biggest producer and exporter of sugar, and the worst drought in about 100 years in São Paulo has already contributed to a cut in the size of the country's cane harvest for the 2014-2015 crop season, Unica said.

The fires will also reduce the size of the cane harvest in the next crop season as well, according to according to Unica's technical director, Antonio de Padua Rodrigues. Fires in areas that had already been harvested and where more cane had been planted might need to be replanted and some of that cane won't be ready for the next harvest.

The drought and the fires will probably result in a cut to sugar production of about 3 million metric tons in the 2014-2015 season, Mr. Padua said. That will mean exports will fall by about that much, because Brazil's sugar industry will meet local demand for the sweetener, he said.

São Paulo state received 80% less rain than normal in January, February, March and April of this year and got almost no rain at all in August, according to Mr. Padua. The early months of the year are vital to developing of the sugar cane plants.

Brazil's center-south region, of São Paulo is a part and which grows about 90% of Brazil's cane, will produce 545.9 million metric tons of the crop in the current 2014-2015 season, compared with 597.1 million tons in the 2013-2014 season, Unica and Brazil's Cane Technology Center said in August.

The illegal fires this year aren't being set by farmers, Mr. Padua said, given the stiff fines imposed by the government and farmer investments in mechanization.

Brazilian cane farmers used to light controlled fires in their fields before harvesting to burn away some of the excess vegetation and make it easier for workers to enter the fields and harvest the cane.

That practice is now illegal in most areas, and cane farmers have invested heavily in mechanized harvesting equipment.

source: online.wsj

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