Quest for Better Yields
Follow Kip Cullers, a Purdy, Mo., farmer known for his bin-busting soybean yields, Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie and Farm Journal Machinery Editor Margy Fischer as they travel to Brazil to learn more about the country's soybean production.
Inside a Brazilian Sugar Cane Farm and Mill
Feb 21, 2012
It takes 75,000 acres to 100,000 acres to feed the Usina Ipiragna sugar mill in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
This is one of three sugar mills owned by the same family, which is currently building its fourth mill. Unlike the other three mills that produce raw sugar as well as ethanol, the new mill will produce sugar cane ethanol solely.
We visited the site to see the farm’s crews getting ready for harvest, which will start in the next two months, including disassembling all harvesters and tractors, such as this Valtra.
At this mill, the company produces 50% sugar and 50% ethanol from its crop, or sometimes the balance becomes 60/40 in either product’s direction.
According to Luiz Cunali Defillippi Filho, technical manager for the group, harvest will last and the mill will run for 200 to 250 days. His family started in this business in 1952, and today they harvest 170,000 acres of sugar cane with a fleet of 35 self-propelled sugar cane harvesters. When a new machine is bought, it is outfitted with GPS steering, and today 10 of the company’s machines have GPS. The crew is expected to run day and night.
At the facility we toured, when the mill is running, 8,800 U.S. tons are used daily to produce raw sugar and 80,000 gal. of sugar cane ethanol. In total, the company’s three current facilities use 22,000 U.S. tons of harvested sugar cane every day.
The average distance from field to mill is 14 miles.
The process of milling sugar is self-sustaining once it starts up. The biomass unused in the processed sugar feeds the broilers, which create steam to turn turbines to generate electricity to power the entire facility. The cake byproduct from the sugar processing is rich in sulfur and is reapplied to the fields.
The processed sugar is stored in 110-lb. totes and transported for refining or the export market.
Sugar cane is planted once and harvested for six crops until replanted into sugar cane or another crop rotation.
There are 25 million acres of sugar cane in production in Brazil, and 20 million of those acres are located in the state of Sao Paulo. The Brazilian government has mandated that production increase to twice the area of production and twice the production per acre by 2020. This is to fulfill the demand for sugar cane ethanol in Brazilian flex-fuel cars as well as rising global sugar demand.
Sugar cane is also grown on steep hillsides that have to be hand-harvested.