In Brazil’s soy fields, harvesters at full throttle complete an annual harvest that promises to be exceptional thanks to increased acreage, favorable climate and higher productivity.
The harvest of the world’s largest producer and exporter of oilseeds should increase by 8.6% this year compared to last year, which was already a record, reaching 135.5 million tons, according to the National Supply Company (Conab ).
The area planted with soybeans in Brazil increased 4.1%, reaching 38.5 million hectares.
This expansion has been possible mainly thanks to “the growing use of degraded pastures,” which are no longer suitable for livestock, Daniel Furlan Amaral, an economist at the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove), told AFP.
Furthermore, “on the border with Uruguay, many rice producers who did not plant anything for two years after each harvest, are now rotating crops with soybeans,” said Décio Teixeira, president of the Brazilian Association of Soy Producers ( Aprosoja) from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, one of the main national oilseed suppliers.
This is possible thanks to varieties “more resistant to a certain degree of humidity,” he explained.
– Higher productivity –
Crops used to be concentrated in southern Brazil, but since the late 1970s they have spread to the center-west, especially in the Cerrado savanna. According to a study by the Agrosatélite company, commissioned by Abiove, the area occupied by oilseeds in this biome doubled between 2001 and 2019, reaching 18.2 million hectares.
The Amazon, more protected by the forest code, went from 1.1 million hectares in 2007 to 5 million in 2018, gaining ground mainly in old grasslands.
The Brazilian soybean harvest should also increase its productivity by 4.3% compared to the previous harvest and reach an average yield of 3,523 kg per hectare.
The first forecasts were not promising, due to a drought in several regions that forced sowing to be delayed, but the climatic conditions balanced during the vegetative cycle and ended up favoring the crop.
The productivity gains can be explained in particular by “the growing use of technologies in plantations,” said Luiz Fernando Gutierrez, an analyst at Safras e Mercado.
Thus, the delivery of fertilizers “increased 10% in 2020”, underlines the technical consultant of the National Agricultural Confederation (CNA), Fábio Carneiro.
– Logistical challenges –
The transgenic soybean now occupies almost all the areas assigned to the cultivation of this oilseed. Some varieties have a productivity that exceeds 5,000 kg per hectare and “they are increasingly present in the field,” says Carneiro.
He also argues that the good Brazilian performance is explained by the development of the direct sowing system, “which consists of not plowing the land” between harvests and using straw as plant cover to “reduce erosion of tillage and avoid loss of nutrients.” .
The consultant also highlights the rise of precision agriculture thanks to applications that allow, for example, to identify the areas with the most weeds and apply herbicides according to specific needs.
This year, the sector will benefit from the rise in prices in the national and international markets, driven by the explosion in demand, especially in China, the main destination for Brazilian soybeans.
But the president of Aprosoja in the state of Goiás (central-west), Adriano Barzotto, advocates caution due to the challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic and the depreciation of the Brazilian real against the dollar.
“The prices of fertilizers, fuel and equipment have also increased and our activity has become more expensive. It is better not to get carried away by euphoria or go into debt, because the prices of cereals and oilseeds fluctuate a lot,” he warns.
In addition, to sell its harvest, Brazil has to face significant logistical challenges, especially storage and transportation on roads in poor condition or without asphalt.
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