July 6, 2017

Nearly 100% of Brazil's Sugarcane will be Mechanically Harvested

Sugarcane production in Brazil has undergone a revolution in recent years. The scene of hundreds of workers in a field cutting the sugarcane by hand is a thing of the past. Currently, 85% of the sugarcane in Brazil is mechanically harvested and that will increase even more by the end of the year.

In the state of Sao Paulo for example, which is the largest sugarcane producing state in Brazil, 97% of the sugarcane is already being harvested mechanically and state laws require that it be 100% by the end of 2017. In the state of Minas Gerais, 98% of the sugarcane is mechanical harvested and 92% is mechanically harvested in the state of Goias. These are the top three sugarcane producing states in Brazil.

The reason for the switch was the desire to eliminate pollution from the burning of the sugarcane fields prior to harvesting. In order to harvest sugarcane by hand, the dry leaves must be burned off before the workers enter the fields. By eliminating the abundance of dry leaves, it creates a safer environment for the workers wielding razor sharp machetes, but the smoke and pollution created by the burning resulted in tremendous respiratory problems for the population in the region.

To make the pollution even worse, sugarcane in Brazil is harvested during the dry season when there are no rains to cleanse the atmosphere of the smoke. In many areas, a blue haze would settle over the region for months at a time during the harvest season. Virtually all the burning of sugarcane will be eliminated with the exception of very small landowners who cannot afford mechanical harvesters or hillsides where the terrane is too steep for mechanical harvesting.

By switching to mechanical harvesting, it has also allowed the harvesters to be equipped with GPS technology to the extent that some harvesters can now be operated without even having a driver.

All this advancement in mechanization has been good for the producers, but it is very bad news for the unskilled workforce of hundreds of thousands of cane cutters that are now out of work.