Sugarcane harvest helped by paraquat

No more burning sugarcane when paraquat is used as a harvest aidIn Brazil, paraquat is helping farmers to harvest more sugarcane, more efficiently. The fast and thorough desiccation achieved by paraquat means faster harvesting, more profitable cropping and less environmental impact. Production of sugarcane in Brazil has doubled in the past decade and is forecast to double again in the next1,2. As a biofuel


Fuel derived from biomass.

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feedstock sugarcane is attractive because of its high net energy gain. However, its impact on the environment and opportunities for food production are under scrutiny. Minimizing land use by increasing yield, and protecting biodiversity


The variety of life in all its forms, levels and combinations. Includes ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity (IUCN, UNEP and WWF, 1991).

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and the environment are important.
Leading environmental group WWF states that a major improvement in the sustainability of sugarcane crop management would be to eliminate burning the crop prior to harvest.

Benefits of paraquat harvest aid

  • No need to burn cane
  • Soil organic matter increased
  • Biodiversity preserved
  • Less fuel used by harvesters
  • Less leaf trash in harvested cane
  • 15+% lower transport costs
Setting fire to the crop removes the leaves, but does little damage the stems. This increases the proportion of useful harvested material, ie the cane stems, and reduces risks to laborers harvesting the crops who might be cut by sharp leaf edges or bitten by snakes. However, on the downside, burning kills wildlife, pollutes the atmosphere and may get out of control. ‘Green harvesting’ may also mean up to 5% higher sugar yields and is becoming more popular in Brazil. Five years ago, less than 10% of the crop was harvested without burning; by 2008 this had increased to 20% and in five years time the figure is forecast to rise to over 30%. When sugarcane is harvested green, combine harvesters strip the leaves from the stems. As much shredded leaf material as possible is returned to the soil, When leaves are spread on the cane fields soil organic matter builds up, increasing fertility, decreasing erosion and the decomposing leaves provide a mulch to retain moisture and inhibit the germination of weed seeds. However, significant amounts of leaf trash are collected with the chopped cane stems. This adds unnecessary weight to the load being transported to the sugar mill where it has to be removed. Pre-harvest paraquat reduces leaf trash in loadWith a pre-harvest application of paraquat, all the benefits of green harvesting are retained with significant additions. A desiccated crop means harvesting is faster with less bulk passing through the combine, so saving time and fuel, and reducing emissions. Less leaf trash ends up in the harvested cane which means more room for cane stems and less cleaning needed, so reducing costs. Trials have demonstrated cost savings of between 15% and 19% from using paraquat as a harvest aid.  


  1. Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA)
  2. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation FAOSTAT