Why sugarcane matters to us

Why sugarcane matters to us

We work long and hard to help farmers make a success of their sugarcane crop. The world’s demands are high: the food industry relies hugely on sugarcane to make the products people love.

It’s not just for sweets. Sugar is also in less obvious products like tomato ketchup and pickles. Each of us eats around 23 three-gram sugar lumps every day – that’s just under 25 kilograms each year. Approximately 80 per cent of this sugar comes from sugarcane.

There’s also a new and growing reason the world turns to farmers for sugarcane: biofuel. Through fermentation, sugar can be turned into bioethanol – a rising star in the low-carbon economy.

Sugarcane: the facts

How much sugar is in food
How much sugar is in food
How much sugar is in food
  • The annual sugarcane harvest weighs in at around 1.7 billion tons – that’s 250 kilograms for every person on earth
  • Almost every part of the plant gets used for food, fuel or energy
  • Brazil is by far the largest sugarcane producer, accounting for almost half the world’s harvest
  • Other major producers include India, China, Thailand and Mexico
  • More than half Brazil’s annual harvest goes into bioethanol production
  • Bagasse, the fiber left over after the sugar has been extract-ed, can also be burned and then used to generate electricity
  • Experts believe Brazil could cover 20 per cent of its energy needs from bagasse

Problems farmers face

Small and unassuming but with a sting in its tail – the sugar cane borer (here a larva) is one of the most dreaded foes on sugar cane plantations. If the larvae tap the flesh of the plant, the sugar content in the stalk decreases and, in some cases, entire parts of the plant die.

When farmers see the inner leaves of their crop withering away, it’s a really bad sign for them – showing the larvae of the sugarcane moth have been at work. This lethal pest can cut a plant’s sugar content by over 10 per cent, sometimes weakening it so badly it snaps.

Cane grubs, the larvae of the cane beetle found mostly in Australia, can cause similar havoc.

From a farmer’s point of view, these pests also mean more hard work to do on the farm. Without the right insecticide, they need to remove damaged plants and replace them with new seedlings.

Other pests which can bring disaster to the farm include the Mexican rice borer, termites and various other beetles and nematodes. These tiny worms can destroy up to 50 per cent of the harvest. Once damaged by pests, plants are even more vulnerable to fungal and bacterial infection. Weeds are another headache for farmers: cutting yields and making harvesting much more time-consuming.

Answers we offer

Faced with such challenges, sugarcane farmers are eager to protect their crop with the best products available. That’s where we come in, offering hard-working protection from products such as Certero™, Confidor™, Evidence™ and Curbix™.

Provence™, Merlin™ and Sencor™ are effective herbicides for controlling tropical weeds, some of which grow to enormous heights. Our new product Alion™ provides particularly long-lasting protection on plantations.

Farmers often need our products so urgently they ask for them before they’ve received regulatory approval. In Australia in 2001, the authorities issued an emergency permit for Confidor™, to help farmers win the fight against a devastating attack from cane beetles. It’s now a brand that brings reassurance to sugarcane farmers across Australia.

New technologies for the field

Right now, we’re jointly researching a new generation of sugarcane with a much higher sugar content with Brazil’s leading Sugar cane research company, the Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira CTC. The ultimate benefits from higher sugar yields could bring the world more biofuel from the same amount of land. It’s a clear win for tomorrow’s sustainable and low-carbon economy.

It’s a very exciting area which promises huge gains for the growing market in renewable energy. There’s another planetary benefit we warmly welcome. Higher yields would meet the rising demand for sugar without extending sugarcane plantations.