SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's 2011/12 cane harvest that started officially last week should progress faster with weather expected to be drier over the next few weeks, Somar meteorologists said Monday.
Forty-four mills had started crushing cane from the new season by last Thursday, but most of the 350-odd mills in the main center-south region should be operational by the end of the month, sugar cane industry association Unica said.
"Between Tuesday and Wednesday we predict some instability that could make the weather rainier in (the states of) Parana, Sao Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul, but this shouldn't last," said Somar meteorologist Celso de Oliveira.
Although rains could persist in areas in Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul over the following days, top cane producing state Sao Paulo and other states in the center-south will get dry and remain so over the comings weeks, he said.
"For the next 10 days, we see possible problems (for the progress of the harvest) only in Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul, however, volumes won't be high," Oliveira said, adding the weather has been mostly favorable since last week for the harvest to advance despite isolated storms.
Brazil's center-south tends to be dry in the winter (June-September) and wet in the summer (December-March). Spring and autumn are "transition periods," with rains mixed with dry spells.
A mostly dry weather during the harvest season is important to allow machines to get into the fields and also to boost sugars content in cane that is going to be crushed.
"That's the trend now. Through April, and especially in the second half of the month, rains will diminish," Oliveira said. "We may see a cold front bringing some showers around April 20, 21, but they won't last more than a day. Rains have started fading away and conditions for harvesting are improving."
The center-south accounts for 90 percent of the cane crop in Brazil, which is the world's largest sugar producer and exporter. Dry weather in 2010 cut production helping to push up international sugar prices to 30-year highs.
Forecasters predicted the weather would return to more normal this year with the end of the La Nina phenomenon expected for around June.
(Reporting by Inae Riveras; Editing by John Picinich)