Sugar cane farming in Brazil is a tricky tightrope of coordination, safety, and efficiency due to the scale of operations, stringent regulations, and the orchestrated chaos of machinery and people.
To keep a large sugar cane operation running, our customers may manage over 1,000 employees and more than 40,000 hectares (roughly 100,000 acres), in addition to over 20 harvesters, 40 tractors hauling harvested cane out of the field, and five or more refueling trucks driving back and forth to keep the harvesters running 24 hours a day.
And while sugar cane as a crop is known for its importance in the food industry, in Brazil it is equally — if not more so — valuable to the renewable-fuel industry as the country sharpens its focus on greenhouse gases. With roughly 80 percent of the country's auto fleet tied to flex-fuel blends, more than 50 percent of sugar cane is used for ethanol.
When compared to more widely visible crops — like corn and soybeans — sugar cane is unique as it regrows off its own stubble or remaining stalk, making it truly sustainable unto itself. This regrowth means one sugar cane plant can provide up to five years of harvest opportunity. But if the stalk is ripped from the ground, that yield potential is gone for good, which means a clean cut of the plant is critical.
Given the significant role that harvest plays in the sugar cane production system, any pain points throughout this phase have a potentially outsized impact on growers. Those challenges include high fuel-input costs, high fuel-transport costs, logistics, soil compaction, and yield impacts.