Brazil looks poised to regain the title of the world’s top sugar producer, assuming a forecast from Safras e Mercado holds true of a recovery in output from this season’s weather-reduced levels.

The analysis group pegged at 620.7m tonnes the Brazilian cane harvest in 2023-24, on an April-to-March basis, growth of 20.4m tonnes year on year.

The increased crush will enable growth of 3.02m tonnes to 39.04m tonnes in Brazil’s sugar output next season, the highest since the record of 41.5m tonnes produced in 2020-21 on estimates from industry group Unica.

The improvement would likely take Brazil’s output back above that of India, which is expected by the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) to produce a record 36.5m tonnes of sugar in 2022-23, on an October-to-September basis.

India’s sweetener output growth has been constrained both by capacity limits but also expansion in the diversion of sugars to making ethanol instead.

Mills are expected to use the equivalent of 4.5m tonnes of sugar for ethanol production this season, up by 1.1m tonnes year on year.

Improved rainfall

Safras e Mercado attributed its forecast for increased Brazilian cane volumes in 2023-24 to the prospect of recovery in the key Centre South region, where crops have been undermined this season by hangovers from frost and drought, with recent rains also hampering harvesting activities.

Indeed, Sao Martinho, one of Brazil’s top cane processors, overnight cut is forecast for its cane crush this season by 189,000 tonnes to 20.01m tonnes, citing “prolonged drought and… frost in July 2021, which affected yields in a part of the harvested area in the 2022-23 crop year”.

Safras e Mercado said that ongoing rains, typical of this time of year, should maintain elevated levels, with “strong” volumes this month to be followed by “accumulated volumes above 200mm in December and also in January”.

The cane crushing off-season should thus be “very typical, with high rainfall, at least until January”.

The moisture, while helping limit this season’s Centre South crush to 545m tonnes, will boost cane yields for next season’s harvest.

“With regular rains, sugarcane production is expected to grow in the country’s main producing region in 2023-24,” to 565m tonnes, the analysis group said.

‘Exponential growth’

The forecast for increased sugar output will allow Brazil to export 35m tonnes of the sweetener in 2023-24, up from the 31m tonnes expected for this season.

India, which exported a record high of 11m tonnes of sugar in 2021-22, is estimated by ISMA to have an exportable surplus of 9m tonnes for 2022-23.

The Brazil estimates factor in an expectation that mills will next season use 49% of cane for making sugar, a figure up by 2 points year on year, at the expense of the proportion of the crop used to make ethanol.

Production of hydrous ethanol, as used by flex-fuel cars as an alternative to gasoline, will fall by 2.7% to 18bn litres, although output of anhydrous ethanol, as blended into gasoline, will grow by 4.6% to 11.5bn litres.

Ethanol volumes will also be bolstered by “exponential growth” in output of corn-based ethanol, to 4.0bn litres from 3.4bn litres expected this season.