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Adecoagro SA (AGRO) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

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AGRO earnings call for the period ending September 30, 2021.

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Adecoagro SA (AGRO 1.08%)
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Nov 12, 2021, 8:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for waiting. At this time, we would like to welcome everyone to Adecoagro's Third Quarter 2021 Results Conference Call. Today with us, we have Mr. Mariano Bosch, CEO; and Mr. Charlie Boero Hughes, CFO. [Operator Instructions] After the Company's remarks are completed, there will be a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions]

Before proceeding, let me mention that forward-looking statements are based on the beliefs and assumptions of Adecoagro's management and on information currently available to the companies. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions because they relate to future events and therefore depend on circumstances that may or may not occur in the future. Investors should understand that general economic conditions, industry conditions and other operating factors could also affect the future results of Adecoagro and could cause results to differ materially from those expressed in such forward-looking statements.

Now, I'll turn the conference over to Mr. Mariano Bosch, CEO. Mr. Bosch, you may begin your conference.

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Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Good morning, and thank you for joining Adecoagro's 2021 third quarter results conference. 2021 marked a 10-year anniversary of Adecoagro's IPO. In the last 10 years, our adjusted EBITDA grew from $100 million to roughly $400 million, and our cash generation became structurally positive. Since the IPO, we expanded our businesses and conducted investments that allow us to vertically integrate our operations, improve efficiencies and enhance our competitive advantages. We have also became a source of carbon credit and a reference in the sustainable production of food and renewable energy.

Adecoagro is now a more mature company with a healthy capital structure and the capacity to commit to a systemic distribution policy. As we mentioned in the past, during 2021, we are distributing cash to our shareholders via our share repurchase program. So far, we have already repurchased over 6 million shares equivalent to more than 5% of the equity of the Company. Starting in 2022, we will distribute annually at least 40% of the adjusted free cash from operations generated during the previous year. Distribution will consist of a dividend of at least $30 million per year, which will be paid in May and November. At the same time, we will continue to repurchase shares under our program as we see appropriate until reaching the distribution target. On top of our distribution policy, we continue to see attractive growth opportunities that synergized well with our current operations, have potential to make them more efficient and sustainable and offer very attractive returns. And all these will never compromise our solid debt profile.

Now in relation to the performance of our business, consolidated adjusted EBITDA marked a new record high for the first nine months of the year and an increase of over 50% compared to last year. In our sugar, ethanol and energy business, crushing volumes during the quarter was only 200,000 tons lower than last year, despite the impact of the frost. This was possible because we accelerated harvesting activities, increased harvested area and were able to purchase some canes from third parties.

As we were expecting, lower production was more than offset by the higher prices that we captured in sugar, ethanol and electricity. We continue to seek attractive price scenario in the following quarters due to the impact in supply and to the early finish of the harvest season for most of the mills. We are in a great position to continue to benefit from this price scenario, as we have been hitting the low-end of our commercial policy.

We have invested in our on-site storage capacity, which enables us to carry over 155,000 cubic meters of ethanol and a 165,000 tons of sugar. We have recently increased our capacity to produce anhydrous ethanol, which traded at $0.24 per pound in October, marking a 10-year high. We have the necessary flexibility to switch from producing sugar to ethanol. In fact, we are currently producing 100% ethanol to benefit from higher relative prices.

We continue to actively participate in the RenovaBio program through the sale of more than $2 million of CBios during the quarter. As part of our efforts to continue increasing the sustainability of our operations and improve our RenovaBio score, we will soon start testing the use of biomethane in 13 vehicles. We are very excited about the development of this technology and see a great potential for it.

Moving on to our rice business. We achieved strong results during the first nine months of the year, including a record high yield of 7.8 tons per hectare in average. This was possible thanks to the investment we made across the business, but especially to the innovative approach of our team who bought a special focus on productivity, grain quality and efficiency through the value chain.

As we improve our product genetics and offer customized products that perform well at the farm and the industry level, we continue to develop new markets and increase our mix of higher value-added products. We are proud of the work we are doing in this segment of our team and of our use of technology to develop a sustainable production system that is generating great results.

Going to the crop business, we completed harvesting activities for 2020/'21 harvest year, totaling 700,000 tons of grains. We achieved good yields, although it was a La Nina year. This was thanks to our geographic and product diversification, which is one of our competitive advantages and allow us to extend the planting and harvesting window and thanks to that work of our team and the use of technology.

Productivity indicators were more than compensated by the high average prices. At the present time, all of our teams are fully focused on the planting activities for the 2021/'22 harvest year. So far, we are planting crops and rice at an excellent pace under good soil and weather conditions. Now, we are entering into the period where most of the physical yields are defined.

In our daily operations, we continue to achieve high productivity indicators and transform raw milk into value-added products, demanded both in the domestic and export markets. As every year, Cushman & Wakefield conducted an independent appraisal of our land portfolio and valued it 2.4% above last year.

To conclude, I would like to express my gratitude to our shareholders for their continued support. I also want to thank our operation and management teams for the hard work and the effort they did throughout all these years. I am convinced that we have the right team and that we are following the right strategy to continue to generate attractive and sustainable margins for all of our shareholders.

Now, I will let Charlie walk you through the numbers of the quarter.

Carlos A. Boero Hughes -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Mariano. Good morning, everyone. Let's start on Page 4 with a brief analysis on the rains in Mato Grosso do Sul. As seen on the top chart, rains in our cluster during the third quarter of 2021 were lower than during the same period last year and the 10-year average. However, increased precipitations during October were very favorable for the recovery of sugarcane yields.

Before turning to the following slide, I would like to briefly comment on the cold front that hit most of Brazil's key productive area at the beginning of the quarter. As you know, low temperatures at the end of June and July caused severe frost damage on sugarcane plantations in regions including Sao Paulo and Parana states, as well as Mato Grosso do Sul and Minas Gerais. This caused a negative impact in yields, which were already affected by the dry weather observed through all the year in the Center-South region of Brazil.

In light of this, market estimates of Brazil's sugarcane supply were cut in as much as 15% by some analysts. While expectations at the beginning of the year pointed at a crushing volume of 590 million tons of sugarcane, current expectations range between 520 million tons and 510 million tons. The pressure on the supply side translated into higher prices for all three products. This made the price scenario even more constructive than it already was. As we'll see in the following slides, we were in an excellent position to capture this upside because of our strategy to hedge at the low-end of our commercial policy. In fact, for the 2022 and '23 campaign, we still have over 90% of TRS unhedged.

Please jump to Page 5, where I would like to walk you through our agricultural productivity. During the third quarter of 2021, sugarcane yields marked a 27.2% reduction compared to the same period of last year, reaching 59 tons per hectare. TRS content, in turn, presented a 6.9% reduction and totaled132 kilograms per ton. The lower-than-expected agricultural productivity indicators were fully explained by the adverse weather conditions, as most of the harvested area was came below optimal growth stage. It is worth mentioning that accelerating harvesting pace is very important to avoid the frost from causing additional damage on the cane.

The combined effect in yields and TRS content resulted in a TRS production per hectare of 7.8 tons during the quarter, resulting in a 32.2% reduction year-over-year. On a nine-month basis, the year-over-year reduction of 11.7% in sugarcane yields and 12.5% in TRS per hectare is fully explained by the third quarter dynamics. Going forward, it is expected that productivity will return to normal levels as sugarcane continues to recover favored by increased precipitations during October.

Now let's continue with Slide 6, where we'd like to discuss our sugarcane crushing strategy. Because we have in place an integrated business, our crushing volume during the third quarter of 2021 was only 200,000 tons lower year-over-year, despite lower-than-expected agricultural productivity indicators. This achievement was possible because we harvested 28.2% more area than during the same period of last year and increased the amount of gain purchased from third parties in 15.5%.

In addition to this, our team responded quickly and leased third-party harvesters in order to accelerate harvesting activities to minimize the weather impact. By doing so, we achieved a crushing volume of 4.1 million tons during the quarter, only 5.2% lower year-over-year. As of September 30, crushing volume reached 9.7 million tons, 11.1 million tons or 13% higher year-over-year. This increase was explained by the good cane availability and early start of crushing activities during the first quarter of the year as opposed to last year, and by the favorable weather during the second quarter of 2021.

Let's move ahead to Slide 7, where I would like to discuss our production mix. As you can see in the top left chart, during the third quarter of 2021, hydrous and anhydrous ethanol in Mato Grosso do Sul traded at an average price of $0.192 per pound and $0.212 per pound sugar equivalent, representing a 2.8% and 13.2% premium to sugar respectively. It is worth pointing out that the evolution of sugar prices during the quarter was also very positive.

In line with our strategy to maximize production of the product with the highest marginal contribution, during the quarter, we diverted 55% of TRS to ethanol to profit from higher relative prices. To further take advantage of price premiums, 63% of total ethanol production was anhydrous ethanol, compared to 41% during the third quarter of 2020. This increase in anhydrous ethanol production was possible thanks to the recent incorporation of our molecular sieve in Ivinhema which increased our dehydration capacity in 50%.

Total production of both ethanol and sugar was 11.2% and 7.3% lower compared to the third quarter of 2020, respectively. As previously mentioned, this was explained by the lower production of TRS, but it was more than offset by an increase in prices. As Brazil is one of the world's main producers and exporters of sugar, any weather event that might impact supply will result in an increase in prices. Our low hedging volumes enabled us to capture the benefit that this natural hedge offered.

On a year-to-date basis, production mix was in line with the first nine months of 2020, standing at 58% ethanol and 42% sugar. Volumes produced were 14.4% and 13.6% higher, respectively, favored by a strong production during the first six months of the year.

In 2021, we maximized sugar production in the first quarter to benefit from higher relative prices and switched to ethanol during the second and third quarter. The opposite was observed in 2020 when we maximized ethanol during the first quarter, then switched to sugar as ethanol prices plummeted in light of the pandemic, and went back to maximizing ethanol in the third quarter. This high degree in flexibility constitutes one of our most important competitive advantages, since it allows us to make a more efficient use of our fixed assets and profit from higher relative prices. Year-to-date, ethanol accounted for 61.7% of total adjusted EBITDA generation in sugar ethanol and energy business considering other operating income, while sugar accounted for 30.2%.

Please turn to Slide 8, where I would like to comment on our energy production strategy. As you know, Brazil's energy matrix is heavily reliant on hydroelectric energy. Due to the prolonged period of dry weather in the Center-South region of Brazil, the level of water in the reservoirs was low. As can be seen in the top right chart, this resulted in a hike in spot prices, which increased from BRL92 per megawatt hour last year to BRL582 per megawatt in the third quarter of 2021.

To profit from this situation, we increased our energy production by burning bagasse, both owned as well as purchased from third parties, wood chips purchased from third parties and sugarcane straw collected from the field. Exported energy during the quarter totaled 263,000 megawatt hour, 4% higher compared to the same period of 2020, while our Cogen efficiency ratio was 9.6% higher.

Let's please turn to Slide 9, where I would like to discuss quarterly sales. As you can see on the right chart, net ethanol sales during the third quarter of 2021 amounted to $83.4 million, 121.7% higher year-over-year. This was mostly explained by an increase in average selling prices measured both in reals as well as in U.S. dollars, resulting in a 70.8% increase, mostly led by anhydrous ethanol.

Despite a lower production of ethanol during the quarter and an aggressive carryover strategy to benefit from higher expected prices, ethanol sales volume presented a 15% increase compared to the third quarter of 2020. This was fully explained by the lockdown measures adopted in 2020 in response to the COVID-19, which negatively affected demand for fuels resulting in a decrease in sales and a stock build up. On a year-to-date basis, ethanol sales were 69.6% higher than during the first nine months of 2020. This was explained by a 49.3% increase in average selling prices and 13.6% increase in selling volumes.

A brief comment on CBios. During the quarter, we sold 255,800 CBios under the RenovaBio program at an average price of BRL46 per CBio, approximately $8.7 per CBio. Year-to-date, we sold 367,900 CBios at BRL41.6 per CBio, approximately $7.8 per CBio.

In the case of energy, selling volumes during the quarter reached 319,000 megawatt hour, marking a 2.6% year-over-year increase. Average selling prices were higher both measured in reals as well in U.S. dollars, standing at $58.9 per megawatt hour, implying a 64% increase compared to the same period of last year. As mentioned before, this was driven by the low levels of water reservoirs, which reduced the supply of hydroelectric energy.

All in all, net sales of energy in the third quarter of 2021 were $18.8 million, 68.3% higher year-over-year. On a nine-month basis, net sales of energy were 37.7% higher year-over-year as a consequence of the increase in selling volume and average selling prices. Net sales of sugar during the third quarter of 2021 reached $46.6 million, 27.2% lower year-over-year. This decrease was driven by a 50.7% decrease in selling volumes, partially offset by a 52.1% increase in average prices, which reached $0.172 per pound.

There are two points worth highlighting. During the third quarter of 2020, we increased the volume of sugar sold as the market for ethanol was fairly illiquid, and prices were low due to the pandemic and due to our commercial strategy to carry over stocks in order to profit from higher expected prices. Stocks of sugar in the current quarter almost doubled compared to last year. On a nine-month basis, sugar sales reached $143.3 million, led by a 48.7% increase in average selling prices which fully offset the 2.4% decrease in selling volume.

Finally, to conclude with the sugar, ethanol and energy business, please turn to Slide 10, where I would like to discuss financial performance. Adjusted EBITDA during the third quarter of 2021 was $138.1 million, $51.7 million or 59.8% higher compared to the same period of last year. The main driver behind EBITDA growth was the $36 million increase in net sales coupled with a $20 million year-over-year gain in the mark-to-market of our harvested cane, led by an increase in Consecana prices of 67%.

The increase in adjusted EBITDA was partially offset by a $25.2 million increase in cost, mainly explained by the increase in harvested area to make up for the lower productivity of the cane, which resulted in higher salaries, higher use of diesel and higher maintenance costs among others, as well as by the higher purchase volume of third-party cane, bagasse and wood chip, among others.

Year-to-date adjusted EBITDA stood at $269.8 million, 56.2% or $97.1 million higher than during the same period of last year. Higher results were explained by 60% increase in net sales coupled with a $39.7 million gain derived from the mark-to-market of our sugarcane, mostly related to harvested cane. This was partially offset by an increase in cost combined with a $23.7 million loss in our commodity hedge position and $8.8 million increase in selling expenses in line with the increase in sales. End of period stocks amounted to over $135 million, marking a year-over-year increase of 2.3 times, led by our commercial strategy to carry over stocks in order to benefit from higher expected prices.

I would now like to move on to the farming business. Please direct your attention to Slide 12. As of the end of October 2021, we harvested over 260,000 hectares successfully completing the 2020 and '21 harvest season. This amounts to over 1 million tons of agricultural products harvested and transported across 10 provinces in Argentina and in Uruguay. We are currently engaged in planting activities for the 2021 and '22 harvest season, so far observing normal weather conditions. We expect to plant 282,880 hectares, 7.9% higher than the previous harvest season.

Let's move to Page 13, where I would like to walk you through the financial performance of our farming and land transformation businesses. Adjusted EBITDA in the farming and land transformation businesses reached $24.8 million in the third quarter of 2021 and $113.4 million in the first nine months of the year. This marked a year-over-year increase of 19.9% and 32.6%, respectively. Solely focusing on the farming business, results stood at $23.9 million during the quarter and $107 million on a nine-month basis, marking a year-over-year increase of 30.6% and 55.7%, respectively.

Adjusted EBITDA in our crops segment was $13.7 million during the quarter, $7.9 million higher compared to the same period of last year. This was explained by an increase in average selling prices $127 per ton increase in the case of soybean and $71 per ton in the case of corn, coupled with a year-over-year gain in the mark-to-market of our biological asset on the account of an increase in hectares, yield and prices. This was partially offset by an increase in costs driven by inflation in U.S dollars terms. Year-to-date, adjusted EBITDA amounted to $47.9 million, 89.5% higher compared to the same period of last year. The improved performance was also mostly explained by a year-over-year gain in the mark-to-market of our biological asset on account of an increasing prices.

End of period stocks were 2.3 times higher than last year, amounting to over $50 million mainly as a consequence of commercial strategy to carry stocks in order to benefit from higher prices. In the case of rice, most of the margin was already captured during the first quarter of the year. In this line, adjusted EBITDA reached $2.8 million during the third quarter, marking a year-over-year loss of 54.3%. However, during the nine-month period, adjusted EBITDA stood at $40.7 million, 37.9% higher year-over-year. The positive financial performance was mostly explained by an increase in yields, which reached a record high of 7.8 tons per hectare and increase in area and an increase in prices which led to a year-over-year gain in the value of our biological asset and agricultural produce. These results were possible due to our continuous focus on productivity, enhanced efficiencies and the consolidation of our team.

The dairy business generating an adjusted EBITDA of $7.2 million during the third quarter of 2021 and $19.3 million during the first nine months, an increase of 13.5% and 32.6% compared to the same periods of last year, respectively. In both cases, higher results were explained by an increase in gross sales and achieved efficiencies in our vertically integrated operations, including high productivity at the farm level and the flexibility of our industrial assets. In the case of land transformation, a minor gain was registered in the current year compared to a $16.3 million result in 2020, which reflects the sale of a plot of Abolengo farm.

Let's now turn to Page 15, which shows the evolution of the Adecoagro's consolidated, operational and financial performance. On a year-to-date basis, gross sales reached $777 million and adjusted EBITDA $368 million, marking a year-over-year increase of 33.9% and 50.4%, respectively. During the quarter, gross sales reached $317 million, while adjusted EBITDA totaled $157 million, marking up 33.2% and 53.7% increase compared to the same period of last year.

From an operational point of view, we continue increasing our planted area both in our farming and sugar, ethanol and energy business. This in line with our enhanced efficiencies on the farm and industry level has led to an 8.2% increase in our production of crops and rice, and a 13% increase in crushed volume as previously mentioned.

To conclude, please turn to Slide 16 to take a look at our net debt position. As you may see in the bottom left chart, our net debt as of September 30, 2021 reached $725 million, $19.4 million or 2.6% lower than the previous quarter. This was explained by the combined effect of a 1.6% reduction in gross debt and that 2.5% increase in our cash position, even though marketable inventories in the third quarter of 2021 were $66 million higher compared to the previous quarter. The increase in cash position was a consequence of a greater collections, lower working capital requirements since in the second semester of the year, planting and harvesting costs have already been incurred, and we start selling and collecting income from most of our products.

On a year-over-year basis, net debt increased by 1.9% compared to the same period of last year. The 1.1% reduction in gross debt was fully offset by an 11.2% decrease in our cash position. This reduction in our cash position was mostly explained by an increase in marketable inventories of $124 million compared to the same period of last year. We believe that our balance sheet is in a healthy position not only based on the adequate overall debt levels, but also on the term of our indebtedness, most of which is long-term debt.

As of September 30, 2021, our net debt ratio reached 1.56 times. As can be seen, we continue the downward trend compared to both the previous quarter of 2021 and the same period of last year, marking a reduction of 14.1% and 31.9%, respectively. At the same time, our liquidity ratio which is calculated as cash and equivalents plus marketable inventories divided by short-term debt reached 2 times, 8.9% above last quarter's ratio of 1.84 times and 33.8% higher than the same period of last year, which reached 1.49 times. This clearly shows the full capacity of the Company to repay short-term debt with cash balance without raising external capital.

Thank you very much for your time. We are now open to questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Today's first question comes from Guilherme Palhares with Bank of America. Please go ahead.

Guilherme Palhares -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for taking my question. I have two actually. The first one being on the sugar and ethanol business. Looking at the huge [Indecipherable] you guys had this year and looking for the next crop season, what we could expect in terms of recovery of TRS of cane? And the second one is related to the fertilizers and the market price that we are seeing. And if you could explain a bit what will be paying that for your organization and what is the exposure that you have in the farming business? Should these prices would be very important for us? If you could give more details on that front. Thank you.

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Hi, Guilherme, good morning. Thank you very much for your question. I want to take the second part of the question, and then I'm going to ask Renato to delve more into the details on the sugar and ethanol business and what can we expect for the future. So regarding our fertilizer position for all this year, we are pretty well covered. We anticipated our buying soft fertilizers. So, we are in a very good position in the medium or short-term. And for the longer term, of course, there has been an increase overall of the fertilizers in general. And we will -- that will have an impact in the total cost that applies to the 15% of the total costs. This 15% includes fertilizer and agricultural product that both are increasing in terms of dollar prices.

So that is what we need to take into account. And for next year, that is not the season, so the season that we are planting is already covered. So therefore, in the following season, we will need to adjust the leasing costs, etc. etc. to try to compensate this increase on the fertilizer costs. That is one part of the equation and the other part is that this also gives us an opportunity to be even more efficient in the transformation of the vinasse and the transformation of the manure of the cows[Phonetic] into organic fertilizer. So this transformation of organic fertilizer is being very profitable, and we are increasing and we highlight our[Phonetic] opportunity there to continue to increase these value of fertilizers because of this season in chemical fertilizer. That makes us also more sustainable that the sustainability and the increase in the CBios and the generation of carbon credits through the transformation of this manure into a biological fertilizer is also allowing us to capture more benefits through the face of more CBios or carbon credits. And so, we see all these as an opportunity also.

Regarding the first part of your question of the sugar and ethanol yields and what we can expect there, I would like Renato to get more into those details. Renato? I think we don't have Renato in the line. So, I'm going to go through it. The sugarcane yields, of course, have been affected by the frost, as we have explained in our previous calls. This frost affected this quarter yields. From now on, yields are starting to improve, or will start to improve because we are now going to be harvesting or today we are harvesting cane that has been less affected by these frost. And for next year, that was your question, we can expect lower than the average because of the first half of the year. But in the second half of the year, we will -- we can expect even better because after the frost, we are receiving, during October, excellent rains, so the sugarcane plantation is now looking pretty well. And so for the second semester, we can expect even higher than average, as we consider developing today. So when averaged for next year, we will expect lower on the first half and higher in the second half. That's basically a quick summary.

Guilherme Palhares -- Bank of America -- Analyst

No, that's very clear. Just one additional question, if I may, in terms of the dividend policy that the Company disclosed this quarter, which is a milestone for the Company that I understand. If you could just walk us through the rationale of choosing this 40% threshold and the metric looking at the free cash flow and what we could expect that the impact of that policy in terms of the investments ahead of the Company would like to perform going forward?

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Sorry, Guilherme, I'm not sure I understood exactly the question, but with this policy, as we explained at the beginning, we are committing that 40% of the free cash flow generated from operation is what is going to be distributed to the shareholders, then the rest continues to be for these growth projects that we are seeing very attractive in the different businesses that we currently have.

Guilherme Palhares -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Sure. That's very clear. Thanks, Mariano.

Operator

And our next question today comes from Thiago Duarte with BTG. Please go ahead.

Thiago Duarte -- BTG Pactual -- Analyst

Thank you. Good morning, everybody. Good morning, Mariano, Charlie. Yes, I have two questions on the sugar, ethanol and energy business. The first one is similar to the previous one, but still focus on this ongoing prop. I think last quarter after the frost and knowing the impacts of the drought, you mentioned that you were expecting to crush for the full year around the same volumes that you crushed last year. So just wanted to check whether this assumption is still valid after the third quarter or not, and what would be a reasonable cane volume for the year as per your expectations? The second question is a more specific one regarding, you mentioned very briefly in the earnings release the biomethane project and the investments that happened. Can you hear me?

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Yes, perfectly well.

Thiago Duarte -- BTG Pactual -- Analyst

Okay. Sorry. So -- and the investments that you're making to develop that project. So can you -- you mentioned in the release that you are looking to eventually be able to fully replace the diesel that the company currently buys from the market. So just if you could, can you provide any more color on the size of the capex, the volumes that the biomethane production capacity that you expect to be able to have in the future? Any color on these fronts would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Good morning, Thiago. Thank you for your question. Very interesting. On the second -- on your second question, on the biomethane project that we are very keen on that project and we are very enthusiastic of a technology that we've been developing now for the last seven or eight years. It is advancing every year, a little bit in the development of this project. And now, we have these biodigesters that we take them from the vinasse. And we are currently generating electricity through that biomethane. Now we are making an investment, where we are transforming that biomethane into -- or concentrating it to, put it into the vehicles. We have already transformed that in vehicles. And so, this is our first step.

We expect that during 2022, we are going to be using biomethane for these 13 vehicles. This is still under testing way. We are very enthusiastic, but we analyze the potential of the total vinasse that we are having, and that we could be transforming into the same thing that we are facing today, and that we are having an excellent performance. We could be able to replace almost 100% of all our diesel that is conceptually what the potential of these technologies are. On top of this, we have an agreement with a guy with whom we've been developing this that we could be even selling the technology for third parties. So that is enthusiasm that we are having, but it's still within a very developing technology. And that of course, we are very keen, but we are not projecting nothing specific as of today. Is it clear, Thiago?

Thiago Duarte -- BTG Pactual -- Analyst

Yes, that's clear. But do you have any -- can you size up the project for us in terms of capex, just -- so we understand the amount of investment that you expect to be deploying there? That would be nice. I got the rest.

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Yes, we still don't know the amount of the capex. That's why we are talking about the possibilities of the capex. We will have to be [Indecipherable] in a very short period of time, as we've been seeing now on all these capex that are within our existing businesses have very attractive returns, very short period of payback. So that would be the analysis, once we have or we are pretty sure about the technology. So it will be communicated and very clearly communicated about the situation.

Thiago Duarte -- BTG Pactual -- Analyst

Thank you.

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Then going to the other part of your question, Thiago, regarding the total crushing of this year. In our last quarter, we mentioned that it was on [Indecipherable] some way below last year because of the impact of the frost. Now that we were able to accelerate the harvest and the quarter was excellent in terms of all the actions that we're taking to accelerate the harvest and to harvest all these frosted canes and that performed even better than with what we were projecting because we are able to hire some additional hard-working harvesters and some we accelerated [Indecipherable] at the end of the year or at the -- we anticipated all those moments that we're pretty well done. We can see that, we are going to be pretty near what we harvested last year. It's probably 1% or 2% below last year. We are currently harvesting. We will end up harvest by December. We are now harvesting with 100% ethanol. The difference between ethanol and sugar prices weigh in favor of ethanol. And as Charlie was explaining in the beginning, within the ethanol, the hydrous ethanol is performing very, very good prices. So today, we are doing 100% of ethanol in our current harvest.

Thiago Duarte -- BTG Pactual -- Analyst

That's clear. Thank you, Mariano.

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Thank you, Thiago, for your questions.

Operator

And our next question today comes from Christian Audi with Santander. Please go ahead.

Christian Audi -- Santander -- Analyst

Thank you. Hi, Mariano and Charlie. First of all, congratulations on the great results. I would like to ask a question first on capital allocation, Mariano. Can you -- as we go through the different elements on the leverage front, as you showed very clearly in your presentation, you have very low net debt to EBITDA. What is the target that you plan to maintain that you're comfortable with going to next year?

On the second use of cash in terms of capex, or -- can you just detail a bit more your expectations for capex for major products into next year? You already touched on this test element of biogas? Are you looking at any other products such as E2G or anything else that could result into higher capex than expected?

And then in terms of dividends versus share buybacks, congratulations on establishing a dividend policy? That's something that I think the market was looking for. And I know you were working very hard on it. So congratulations on getting it done. How do you think about the dividend versus share buyback decision? Is it purely a tax issue where you will pay the dividends and then what's leftover you use for share buybacks?

And then the second set of questions was more related to pricing. You already touched on your expectation for continually good ethanol and sugar pricing. Can you just elaborate a bit on that, particularly as it relates to sugar and how you're seeing the global deficit or surplus into next year, please? Thank you.

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Hi, Christian. Thank you for your question. Regarding the first part of your question, similar to what I was explaining when we started the call, we feel that today, we're in a very good position to implement this distribution policy. And our policy refers to at least 40% of the adjusted free cash flow from operations that has been generated in the previous year. And here, I would like to point out, for example, this year 2021, we acquired 6 million shares that is over $50 million. And if we take a look at the net cash from operations generated in 2020, that was around $100 million. So, in this particular year, 2021, because of the projects that we performed and because of the -- our solid debt position and because we are below two times EBITDA and we feel very comfortable in that area that's always being -- during the whole year below the 2 times EBITDA is that we would able to use some way more than 50% of the net cash from operations for revival assuming the previous year. So, that's why within our distribution policy, we are assuming and understanding our capital allocation thinking and same way that we have been explaining in the last three, four, five, six calls. We're always understanding this asset capital allocation system.

So, going Y[Phonetic] at least $30 million of dividends and the rest to complement through buybacks. It includes many things, including [Indecipherable] or not, but this can, of course, vary from time to time.

Finally, the last comment regarding the capex and the opportunities that we are seeing within these growth opportunities. I would say that all of them that we are looking at within the four business lines that we currently have, and the areas where we are seeing many different small projects like the biomethane that we just discussed, but that is probably something that we won't expect a huge capex during 2022. But we can see some small capex on the vinasse concentration with the safe prices of fertilizer. We've increasing the vinasse concentration and applying more effective -- more organic fertilizers is very, very profitable on top of that, that makes us more sustainable, that generates more CBios. So the payback of this type of investments are less than two years and returns of course, are very, very high.

Same thing in different places of the sugar and ethanol chain, you will find many small investment there. And all of them we'll go through these criteria that I'm just explaining. When we look at the Argentina and Uruguay part of the Company, we see very attractive things in the rice business. Rice is doing very well. The performance of being able to develop a genetic of rice and that specific variety being sold to a specific client and we are maximizing prices through that way. It is putting us in a very attractive procedure. And so again, in that sector, we also see some specific opportunities. But all of the opportunities that we are looking today are within the existing businesses and where we feel very, very comfortable returns that we can obtain in that specific case. Most of them are solving some bottlenecks in the whole chain of our investments that we are talking about.

Christian Audi -- Santander -- Analyst

Great. And can you give us a sense as you analyze these opportunities, what levels of returns of IRRs you use as a threshold to in order to pursue them, please?

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Yes, of course. The threshold for the different business that have sustainability impact, there are many specific things. But in general, I would say that all -- most of the things that we are looking at are all of them above 20%, 25% IRRs. There are some of them with 50% IRR. So the IRRs that we are using are very attractive for us.

Christian Audi -- Santander -- Analyst

Great, very helpful. And then, if you could just comment on your outlook for sugar and ethanol prices, please?

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Yes, sure. As we've been anticipating, we are in a very constructive mood in terms of sugar and ethanol prices, with the petroleum at $80 and the relation between importing and exporting in Brazil, the hydrous and anhydrous ethanol cost still a very [Indecipherable] scenario, especially when we talk on the anhydrous scenario. That's why you saw that at the end of this quarter, we were full of inventories and same thing for the sugar prices. We were anticipating this frost effect that we were talking in our previous call that we have in the market talking too much about these previous effects. And I think it was clear that the effect was there and the increase in prices came. And for the next year until the second half of the next year, we also see the scenario very constructive in both sugar and ethanol prices.

Christian Audi -- Santander -- Analyst

Great. Thank you very much.

Operator

And ladies and gentlemen, our next question comes from...

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Renato, do you want to add something to this sugar and ethanol scenario?

Renato Junqueira Santos Pereira -- Director of Sugar and Ethanol Operations

Yes, can you hear me or not?

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Yes, perfectly well.

Renato Junqueira Santos Pereira -- Director of Sugar and Ethanol Operations

Yes, just to add that we don't think that the Brazilian crop will have an important recovery next year, because of the reduction of the 18 months planting, because of the dry weather that impacted that type of planting. Also, the frost and the fire that we were mentioning before will impact the first half of next year in Brazil, the supply of TRS for the first half of the year. And also, the probability is going to be a reduction in the sugarcane area of about 3% of next year. So the Brazilian crop is not going to recover a lot. There are some recovery in some countries like India and Thailand, but in a lower proportion than what Brazil is supposed to reduce. So we think that the best in the world is around 3 million tons of sugar. And we think that the scenario for next year is going to be [Indecipherable] next year is going to be very, very good as we were discussing here. If the oil prices remain at the current levels and the auto cycle is increasing, we think that there's going to be, I would say, a healthy fight from sugar and ethanol for the TRS of the cane. So probably the mix can be impacted and these debts[Phonetic] can be even higher.

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, our next question comes from Lucas Ferreira with JP Morgan. Please go ahead. Lucas your line is open.

Lucas Ferreira -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Yes, so good morning, everybody. Thanks for the opportunity to ask questions and congrats on the distribution policy. I just wanted to make a follow-up question on this, Mariano and Charlie. I think the only maybe missing link on the policy is exactly like what's the limit, what's your leverage limit you expect. So we have normally some visibility on the minimum payments. But what could be like potential payments that, given your capex plan, your expansion capex plan? And what is the limit of leverage you want to maintain? So since your leverage is quite low, apparently there's no major capex in the pipeline, can we -- can you share what's the leverage, [Indecipherable] to keep, so we have also a visibility on what could be the actual payment to shareholders? That's the first question.

The second question maybe to Renato. Renato, just I'm seeing you're carrying a lot of inventories for the coming quarter, especially sugar. If you want to talk about your commercialization strategy for the coming quarter. Do you see the market short of ethanol? Do you see companies importing ethanol in the first quarter, or do you see the inventory balance there? And could you just explain me why are you carrying so much of sugar at inventories for the coming quarters? Yes, that's it. Thanks all for the opportunity. Thanks.

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Hi, Lucas. Thank you for your question. Regarding the distribution policy, I think that is pretty much in line with what we've been saying. This area of below two times EBITDA leverage is an area where we feel very comfortable. We think that we feel are in a company that is generating very good results and sustainable cash. But we want to maintain our leverage of debt very -- in a conservative way. We are in Latin America. We all know Latin America, so we want to maintain our sales in a safe area in terms of the amount of net debt that we would like to have. So, most of what we've been saying today regarding our distribution policy has already been said and this 40% of the net cash from operations is a minimum to which we're committing our sales. And we don't want to have excess of cash in the Company, nothing like that. You can see what we've done during this current year, and so I think it will be continued in the same lines of what -- of how we will be managing the Company in all these years. So, that's regarding the distribution policy. And regarding your question on the inventories, I would like to have Renato answer precisely.

Renato Junqueira Santos Pereira -- Director of Sugar and Ethanol Operations

Hi, Lucas. We also remain very optimistic about the short term. I think the Brazilian crop this year is going to be something close to 520 million tons, much below than everybody was expecting. So, the supply of TRS is much lower than previously thought. The oil prices and the auto cycle has given support for our price of TRS, that's why ethanol prices are very high and helping sugar as well. So, that's the reason that we carried our stocks for the fourth quarter. In the sugar, probably we're going to be selling all the sugar in this fourth quarter. Today, we have 85% of our sugar -- the current sugar production hedged at $0.16 per pound. So, we still have to price 75,000 tons approximately.

In the ethanol, we have been carried -- we have carried the stocks to the last quarter. And now, we're starting to sell ethanol at a very high prices. Actually, we're selling ethanol right now in Mato Grosso do Sul equivalent of the hydrous of $0.22 per pound and then anhydrous $0.24 per pound. I think it's very attractive. So, probably we're going to kick selling something now and something in the first quarter of next year that's probably the price will remain very attractive.

Lucas Ferreira -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Perfect. Thank you very much all.

Operator

And ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our question-and-answer session. I'd like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Bosch for closing remarks.

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Before finishing the call, I wanted to thank you all for joining the conference. The market outlook of the products that we purchased is looking promising, and we are in a unique position to continue to take advantage of such favorite scenario. We are confident that we will continue delivering strong financial results that we will continue to distribute to our shareholders, now in a more structural way. Lastly, I would like to reiterate my gratitude to all our operating teams that are doing an outstanding job and our shareholders for their continued support.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 65 minutes

Call participants:

Mariano Bosch -- Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

Carlos A. Boero Hughes -- Chief Financial Officer

Renato Junqueira Santos Pereira -- Director of Sugar and Ethanol Operations

Guilherme Palhares -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Thiago Duarte -- BTG Pactual -- Analyst

Christian Audi -- Santander -- Analyst

Lucas Ferreira -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

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