Farms such as Usina da Mata in the Sao Paolo region use less water and are witness to improved biodiversity and soil composition. Productivity has also improved and processing the leaves for energy has delivered a valuable new revenue stream as the farm is self-sufficient and can sell on excess power.
The benefits to the soil are hugely important. The high temperatures reached when cane is burnt damage the soil, increasing the risk of erosion as well as affecting water supplies. Burning also means the cane has to be washed of soot, a slow and resource intense procedure that is now unnecessary across much of Brazil.
Newton Antonio Chucri, manager of the farm, says: “The new methods are directly linked to maintaining the climate and the environment. We use less water and we are helping to reforest degraded areas and preserve the flora and fauna.”
It also means that to meet the ever-growing demand for sugarcane, he is able to expand production from the current 2.5m tons to 4m tons per season using less additional land than traditional methods would have demanded.
Mr. Chucri says it’s a win-win situation: “cutting by hand was not a job for humans. We used to have to do it, but now we don’t”.
Harvest has always been a grueling marathon, running for eight months a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day making it an unpopular career choice. But mechanization has helped to make the work more attractive.
“Lots of jobs have been created in construction and industry in Brazil in the past 10 years as the economy has grown. People left agriculture for the cities. Even though you could earn well in the fields, people didn’t want the work. Mechanization is changing that, improving working conditions on the farms and bringing training and education. It’s all making it better,” Mr. Chucri explains.