* Late start to season holds output below yr ago´s
* 2012/13 crop expected to improve on disappointing 11/12
* Harvesting slowed by heavy rain in CS cane belt
Cane crushing in world top sugar producer Brazil reached 4.74 million tonnes by April 15, cane industry association Unica said on Thursday, behind the 6.99 million tonnes crushed by this time last year due to a late start to the harvest.
Sugar output of 152,000 tonnes was behind the 214,000 tonnes produced by this time last year as a result. The 2012/13 crop started officially on April 1 and analysts are hoping for a moderate recovery after last year´s disappointing crop.
But rainy weather over the past few weeks and underdeveloped cane plants from drought over the past year have slowed the start of this season´s crush in the center-south region, which accounts for 90 percent of Brazil´s sugar and ethanol output.
Nonetheless, Unica said laboratory tests on cane samples showed recoverable sugar content was 10 to 15 percent higher than that registered this time last year, an indicator that bodes well for the coming crop if that level is maintained.
Unica said 126 mills were operating by May 1, within expectations but down from the 212 that had reopened after the interharvest this time last year.
Two thirds of the cane crushed went to the production of ethanol. The biofuel which is sold mostly on the local market to drivers of millions of flex-fuel cars on Brazil´s roads, fetches a higher price at this time of year while supplies recover after the interharvest.
Ethanol output reached 181 million liters by April 15, down from 256 million liters produced by the same time last year.
Unica said in mid April it expected the center-south, which grows 90 percent of the country´s cane, to yield 5.7 percent more sugar this season as producers renew aging cane plants that bridled output last year along with harsh dry weather. The weather was overly-dry again during the development of the cane now being harvested, limiting the recovery in output.
New York July sugar futures were trading 0.6 percent higher at 20.68 cents per lb on Thursday.