April 3, 2014

Farmers in Southern Brazil Turning Attention to Planting Wheat

As farmers in southern Brazil complete the harvest of their summer crops, their attention now turns to planting their 2014 winter wheat. Wheat is the only major crop for which Brazil is not self-sufficient and ninety percent of the winter wheat in Brazil is planted in the two southern states of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul.

In the state of Parana, the 2013/14 soybean crop is now approaching 90% harvested and the full-season corn crop is 75% harvested. In northern Parana, farmers have also completed planting their safrinha corn, so what is left to plant is the winter wheat. The Secretary of Agriculture in the state reported that 1% of the estimated 1.2 million hectares of wheat have been planted and the planting should be complete by the end of May. The wheat in Parana will be harvested in September and October.

The 1.2 million hectares of wheat in the state would represent a 23% increase over the previous year. Farmers in the state decided to switch some of their safrinha corn acreage to wheat due to lower corn prices and strong wheat prices. Domestic wheat prices have moved higher due to stronger international wheat prices and a disappointing 2013 wheat crop in Brazil. The 2013 crop in Parana was severely impacted by a series of frosts and freezing temperatures that occurred when the earlier planted wheat was flowering and heading.

The other major wheat producing state in Brazil is Rio Grande do Sul where the soybean crop is approximately one third harvested. The wheat crop in the state is generally planted in May and June and harvested in October and November. Even though freezing temperatures hit the state last year as well, the wheat crop was dormant or still in vegetative development, so there was little damage resulting from the cold temperatures. The wheat acreage in the state is expected to increase 10% in 2014.

Brazil generally imports approximately 6 million tons of wheat because the domestic production only accounts for 40% to 50% of the 10 million ton domestic demand. Brazil usually imports most of its wheat from Argentina, but a reduced crop in Argentina last year forced Brazil to import wheat from outside of South America.

Scientists from the Brazilian research agency, Embrapa, have renewed their focus on expanding wheat production in Brazil in order to make the country self-sufficient in wheat. They are confident that this can be accomplished without the clearing of any new land. The wheat acreage could be expanded by planting more wheat as a second crop after soybeans just like safrinha corn. These new areas would be in central Brazil especially where irrigation is available. Additional production could also be achieved by improving the productivity of wheat grown in southern Brazil.

Even though little wheat is currently grown in central Brazil, research conducted by Embrapa indicates that high quality wheat could be grown in the region. For those skeptics who say that wheat is not suited for central Brazil, the scientists respond that the same thing was said about soybeans and corn production in Mato Grosso and now the state is the leading producer in Brazil of both of those crops.