August 16, 2011

Pasture/crop Rotation Gaining Acceptance in Brazil

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

As Brazilian farmers prepare for planting their 2011/12 soybean crop, a potential source of increased soybean acreage could be the use of degraded pastures. Embrapa has been promoting the integration of pastures and row crops for many years and while the trend is still small, it is gaining traction.

It is estimated that there may be up to hundred million hectares of degraded pastures in Brazil. Degraded pastures are pastures that have a low carrying capacity due to low fertility, soil compaction, inappropriate grass species, and soil erosion. By adopting a rotation of row crops and pastures, the soil fertility is improved, soil erosion is reduced, compaction is eliminated, and the carrying capacity of the resulting pasture is doubled. Researchers estimate that the widespread use of this production practice could eventually double the countries' production of row crops and cattle at the same time.

Embrapa has been conducting research with this new rotation pattern for many years and now commercial farms are proving it effective. The process starts with plowing up the pasture and preparing the soil for a row crop. Agricultural lime is applied as well as the fertilizers needed to grow a crop of corn, soybeans, or rice. When the row crop is planted a pasture grass is planted at the same time. The grass seed is planted deeper than the row crop so it germinates later than the row crop. When the row crop is ready for harvest the pasture grass is several feet tall, green and lush. As soon as the crop is harvested, the pasture is ready for grazing. This provides good grazing during the dry season when normally the pastures have completely dried out. The newly formed pastures are grazed for three years and the process is repeated.

One of the reasons why ranchers are reluctant to renovate their pastures is due to the high costs and the long payback period. With this new method of rotations, the row crop pays for the entire renovation process and the carrying capacity of the renovated pasture is double what it was prior to the renovation.

With new environmental restrictions making the clearing of new land more difficult, farmers in Mato Grosso are already utilizing this new production practice as a way of increasing their soybean acreage without the necessity of clearing new land. This practice works best for farmers who grow row crops and have cattle as well because they already have the machinery needed to grow the crops. It is much more difficult for cattle ranchers to adopt because of the lack of machinery.