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April 23, 2012

Worst Fears Confirmed in the Soybean Fields of Rio Grande do Sul

Farmers in Rio Grande do Sul will complete the harvest of their disappointing 2011/12 soybean crop over the next few weeks and the yields reported thus far are confirming their worst fears. In the 71 municipalities served by Emater/RS agronomist out of Passo Fundo, the average soybean yield is 25 sacks per hectare or 22 bu/ac. These yields represent a decline of 50% compared to a normal year and they are especially disappointing compared to last year when the yields in the region averaged 60 sacks per hectare or 52 bu/ac.

Farmers had high hopes when the rains started early last September and it looked like it was going to be a good start to the growing season. The weather turned hot and dry in November and it never improved for the remainder of the growing season. There were only scattered showers during the heart of the growing season and if you were lucky enough to receive the showers, the soybean yields turned out to be quite good. The yield variability in these municipalities ranges from 7 sacks per hectare (6 bu/ac) to 64 sacks per hectare (55 bu/ac).

This is the second severe drought in the state in the last six years. The drought in 2005 was even worse and farmers are concerned if the climate is changing. The state of Rio Grande do Sul usually received the least amount of rainfall of any major soybean producing state in Brazil, but the last six years have been especially brutal.

Agronomists are advising their clients to be sure and plant a winter crop that can generate some revenue before the next soybean crop is planted in the fall. The primary winter crop in the state is wheat since the climate is not well suited for safrinha corn production. Unfortunately, wheat production in Brazil has not worked out very well over the last several years. Most farmers have lost money on their wheat the last few years due to the higher cost of production compared to neighboring Argentina. Millers in southern Brazil have been content to purchase high quality wheat from Argentina instead of the domestic market.

Other potential winter crops in the state include oats, rye, and canola, but the acreage of these secondary crops are very small compared to wheat.