Sugar cane innovation expected to reduce costs

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sugar

Syngenta is developing new technology which it says will dramatically improve the cost efficiency of sugar cane planting by growing it from smaller cane segments that are less labor intensive.

The company anticipates that its innovation would reduce planting costs per hectare by about 15 percent in Brazil, which as one of the world’s largest sugarcane producers, has considerable influence over the international sugar market.

Syngenta said the technology is planned for launch in 2010 under the brand name Plene and has a market potential of $300m per year by 2015, pending regulatory approvals in Brazil.

However, the American Sugar Association (ASA) argues that trade distorting policies among major sugar producing countries such as Brazil already put US sugar producers at a disadvantage.

Syngenta is developing a method of producing sugarcane segments of less than four centimeters in length, rather than the present method of planting 30-40 centimeter long cuttings.

These shorter segments will be treated with proprietary crop protecting seed care applications to maximize early plant development.

Syngenta claims it will allow growers to replant their fields more frequently, eliminating typical yield degradation, and use lighter planting equipment, saving on fuel costs.

John Atkin, Chief Operating Officer of Syngenta Crop Protection said: "Sugar cane is an important crop for food and bioethanol, and demand is expected to grow strongly.

“Plene will broaden our offer significantly and bring to our sugar cane customers an integrated seed, crop protection and technical support program with clear productivity and cost benefits."

The planting machinery is under development in partnership with US agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere.

Sugar subsidies

The ASA says Brazil’s sugar industry benefits from an ethanol infrastructure built on decades of subsidies and mandates.

Sugar farmers also have access to credit at below market rates and have prospered from regional subsidy payments made to growers and from massive debt relief, according to research compiled by LMC International.

The association wants a sugar market completely free of all subsidies and government intervention, claiming that efficiencies in the US sugar industry would make it “a clear winner”.

Reuters recently reported that sugarcane production in Brazil is expected to be 555m metric tons in 2008/09, about 60 percent of which will be used for ethanol. This is an increase of 64m tons on the previous year.

Sugar production was estimated at 32.45m tons, raw value, compared to 32.1m tons the previous year. Sugar exports were expected to be 20.25m tons.

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