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Brazilian ethanol production

November 21, 2008
By WAYNE SCHOPER Brown/Nicollet Extension Educator

The story of agriculture in this country begins before the discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese.

Indigenous peoples had been conducting agricultural practices for untold generations previous to the arrival of the Europeans in the year 1500.

Soon after their arrival, the Portuguese introduced sugar cane and started the first sugar cane processing mill in 1526. Since then Brazil has undergone many changes in the past 500 years with one constant through the years - the production of sugar cane.

Queioz University in the city of Piracicaba located just south of the city of Sao Paulo in southern Brazil is one of the premier agricultural institutes in Brazil.

During a recent visit, I had the opportunity to listen to some of the staff at the university discuss what some of the current and future issues that are facing the sugar cane industry in Brazil.

This institute conducts much of the current research regarding sugar cane production to include variety selection and development, nutrient management, and the final processing of the plant into sugar and ethanol.

The new varieties need to produce more sucrose and be more disease resistant. Brazil is currently undergoing a major expansion from 18 million acres of sugar cane production in 2008 to 40 million acres by 2020.

Some of this increased production will go into sugar, but the majority will go into expansion of the ethanol industry. Currently, about 2/3 of the sugar cane acreage goes into ethanol production.

This new production will increase overall production from 22.5 billion liters to 65.3 liters by 2020. This will also mean that Brazil will be the world leader in the production and export of ethanol.

The country has the excellent climate and growing conditions, plenty of available land and labor, and the infrastructure to load it on ships and transport it around the world. Most of Brazil's sugar cane production is located in the south-central part of the country in and around Sao Paulo state.

There is some additional production located in the northeastern state of Bahia. The key to all of this is that the sugar cane must be grown within 10 miles of one of the 357 sugar cane processing plants located in the country.

Much of the future processing will be loaded out of southern ports and shipped all over the world. Brazil's true advantage over other agriculture production areas of the world is their abundant available land base.

The landmass of Brazil exceeds that of the continental United States. We have heard mush about the production of corn and soybeans and what effect this has on world markets.

Soybean production has exploded during the past 10 years all over Brazil and has pushed them to the forefront of world production.

But the real story of Brazilian agriculture and world energy production is the ethanol boom.

Currently, only 22 percent of Brazilian arable land is under cultivation.

Many millions of acres are available to develop for crop production. This undeveloped land is currently held as pasture land. Much of this land has a very low pH, which makes it too acidic for the kind of corn and soybean production that we see in the U.S. It would require major inputs of soil amendments in the form of lime and other fertilizers to bring this land to a productive state.

While sugar cane will also need major amounts of fertilizer to produce, the cane will grow well on soils that are not ideal for corn and soybean production.

So what is the future of sugar cane ethanol production in Brazil? One ton of sugar cane will produce enough ethanol to equal 1.25 barrels of oil. This renewable energy resource has allowed Brazil to be energy independent. Ninety-four percent of Brazilian cars are flex fuel vehicles, which allows them to burn anything from E-20 to 100 percent ethanol. This freedom from dependence on foreign oil supplies will continue to serve Brazil well into the future.



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