Sustainable Cultivation and Use of Sugarcane
Brazil has been enjoying the benefits of sugarcane ethanol for decades. Key features of Brazil’s sustainable approach to sugarcane cultivation include:
- Limited Chemical Treatment: The use of pesticides in Brazilian sugarcane fields is low and the use of fungicides practically is nonexistent. Major diseases that threaten sugarcane are fought through biological control and advanced genetic enhancement programs. Brazilian sugarcane plantations use relatively few industrialized fertilizers, due to the innovative use of organic fertilizers from recycled production residues.
- Low Soil Loss: Brazilian sugarcane fields have relatively low levels of soil loss, due to the semi-perennial nature of sugarcane. The same plant will grow back many times after it is cut and its cane juice harvested. Sugarcane is typically replanted only every six or seven years.
Sugarcane ethanol production in Brazil is on the path to even better environmental returns due to two significant trends:
- Mechanized Harvesting: Traditionally, fields where sugarcane is harvested by hand are burned to remove the cane straw and make cutting easier. Using less manual labor and more efficient machines means than many fields are no longer subjected to this pre-harvest burning. Nearly half of all sugarcane cut in Brazil now is harvested mechanically. The industry and government are committed to reaching 100% within the decade.
- Increased Energy Generation: With mechanization, the leftover cane straw that otherwise would have been destroyed during the pre-harvest burn can now be added as fuel to high-efficiency boilers. These boilers already generate approximately 3% of all electricity in Brazil. Using sugarcane byproducts for electricity means less fossil fuel will be needed to meet the growing energy demand in South America.