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April 20, 2017

Brazilian Farmers Planted 93% of Soy, Corn, and Cotton to GMOs

During the 2016/17 growing season, Brazilian farmers planted 93% of their soybean, corn, and cotton acreage to GMO varieties according to a recent study released by Celeres. Brazil planted a combined total of 52.5 million hectares of these three crops with 49 million hectares planted to GMO varieties.

For both soybeans and corn, the percentage of the acreage planted to GMO varieties have probably reached their limit. The soybean crop in Brazil in 2016/17 was 96.5% GMO varieties. Of the GMO soybean varieties, 59.8% were tolerant to both herbicides and insects while 36.7% were tolerant to just herbicides.

Farmers in western Mato Grosso are the only major group of Brazilian farmers still planting conventional soybeans (non-GMO). They can do so due to the unique way that their soybeans are marketed. Foreign buyers offer a premium for conventional soybeans, but these soybeans must remain identity preserved as they move through the storage and transportation chain to foreign buyers.

These conventional soybeans produced in western Mato Grosso are mainly exported through the Port of Porto Velho on the Madeira River in the western Amazon region. At that port there are facilities that only accept conventional soybeans allowing their identity to be preserved. The soybeans are then barged to ports on the Amazon River where they are loaded onto ocean going vessels. No other port in Brazil offers that opportunity other than if the soybeans are shipped in containers.

There will continue to be a niche market for conventional soybeans in Europe and Asia and in fact, Embrapa continues to conduct research on improving conventional soybean production in Brazil including the development of new conventional soybean varieties.

The percentage of corn acreage in Brazil devoted to GMO corn production has probably reached its limit as well. The safrinha corn crop in 2016/17 is 91.8% GMO, but farmers who planted full-season corn used a smaller percentage of GMO corn hybrids. If you combine the two corn crops in Brazil, 88.4% of Brazil's total corn production were GMO hybrids.

Farmers planted less of their full-season corn to GMOs because a lot of the full-season corn is grown by small family farmers in southern Brazil and in northeastern Brazil. These farmers plant corn for their small livestock operations and they generally do not invest in the latest technologies for their small plots of corn.

Cotton farmers in Brazil used the least amount of GMOs at 78.3% of the planted area during the 2016/17 growing season.