A regional approach to determine economic, environmental and social impacts of different sugarcane production systems in Brazil
Brazilian sugarcane sector plays a very important role in the economy of the country, considering sugar, ethanol and bioelectricity production. Over the last decade, a variety of economic, social and environmental elements have pushed the sugarcane sector to increasing adoption of mechanically-based agricultural operations, especially in Center-South region of Brazil. Manual and mechanized sugarcane harvesting technologies were evaluated (with and without burning), as well as straw recovery, in three representative sugarcane production regions in Brazil: São Paulo state, the largest national producer, Northeast, a traditional region of sugarcane production, and Center-West region, sugarcane expansion area. Sugarcane production systems were compared using metrics from Engineering Economics, Life Cycle Assessment, and Social Life Cycle Assessment. The mechanized harvesting presented lower production costs in the São Paulo and Center-West regions, whereas manual harvesting had lowest cost in the Northeast region. When considering the verticalized production system (agricultural and industrial phases), mechanized with straw recovery – operating during both season and off-season periods – presented the best techno-economic performances when compared to the other scenarios in all the regions. Manual harvesting presented higher job creation while mechanized sugarcane systems show better working conditions and workers with higher average income, especially in the agricultural phase. Considering environmental impacts, scenarios with mechanized harvesting without burning and straw recovery presented the best comparative balance of environmental impacts.