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April 14, 2014

Sunflowers Gaining in Brazil as Second Crop Following Soybeans

As corn prices slumped in late 2013, farmers in central Brazil looked for viable alternatives to corn to plant as a second crop following soybeans. As a result, they increased their acreage of second crop cotton, sunflowers, and even more back-to-back soybean production.

The center of innovation for second crop production in the state of Mato Grosso has been the municipality of Campo Novo do Parecis, which is located in western Mato Grosso. The municipality is the leading producer of sunflowers and popcorn in Brazil, both of which are planted as a second crop following soybeans.

In Conab's latest assessment of the 2013/14 Brazilian crops, they estimate that farmers in Mato Grosso planted 119,000 hectares of sunflowers, which is 2,3 times more than the 50,700 hectares planted last growing season. The state of Mato Grosso is responsible for approximately 85% of the sunflower acreage in Brazil. In far distant second and third place are the states of Goias (3,600 hectares) and Mato Grosso do Sul (3,000 hectares). The total 2014 sunflower production in Mato Grosso is estimated at 178,000 tons. Nearly all the sunflowers in the state are planted in the western part of the state where the crop is planted during February and March and harvested during June and July.

Sunflowers for bird seed started to be produced in the state about ten years ago and sunflowers for oil production started about six years ago. The stimulus for sunflower oil production was the establishment of a sunflower crushing plant (Parecis Alimentos) located in Campo Novo do Parecis. The operation has been so successful that is currently expanding its sunflower crushing capacity.

One of the impediments to sunflower production in the state has been the high cost of transportation. Sunflower seeds are light in weight compared to their volume, which makes it prohibitive to transport the seeds long distances to processing plants. Until a crushing plant was constructed nearby, farmers could not afford to grow sunflowers due to the transportation costs. Sunflower oil though can be transported just as profitably as soybean oil, so once a processing facility moved into the region; farmers ramped up their sunflower production. The prices paid for a 60 kilogram sack of sunflowers is usually the same as for a sack of soybeans.

Second crop sunflower acreage in the state (119,000 hectares) is still very small compared to the second crop corn acreage (2,970,000 hectares), but it is increasing. Farmers are expected to continue increasing their sunflower acreage as research improves sunflower production in the cerrado regions of western Mato Grosso.