SAO PAULO, June 10 Tue Jun 10, 2014 9:09am EDT

(Reuters) – Brazil’s main center-south cane harvest is picking up speed, and mills produced 2.03 million tonnes of sugar in the second half of May versus 1.91 million tonnes in the first half the month, sugar and ethanol industry association Unica said on Tuesday.

But cumulative sugar output from the region was still 3.57 percent less than it was at the same time a year earlier, at 5.44 million tonnes compared with 5.64 million tonnes. Unica said some mills were reducing the pace of crushing to avoid harvesting cane that was less than 12 months old.

The current crushing season got off to a slow start after a severe January-February drought sapped nearly 5 percent from the expected cane crush in the 2014/2015 (April-March) season. By the end of May, 260 mills were operating in the center-south, down from 280 mills a year earlier, Unica said. (Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)