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August 23, 2011

Pastures Being Converted to Soybean Production in Mato Grosso

Due to the increasing price of farmland in Brazil, producers in central Brazil are opting to convert some of their pastureland into row crop production instead of buying new land and converting it to agricultural production. According the Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics (Imea), farmers in Mato Grosso will expand their soybean acreage by 3.4% during the 2011/12 growing season. Total soybean acreage in the state is expected to be 6.6 million hectares in 2011/12.

The state of Mato Grosso has approximately 28 million hectares of pastures, which is more than four times the amount of soybean acreage in the state. Many of those pasture acres are degraded with very low carrying capacity or they may not even be grazed at all. The pastures are of poor quality because of low fertility, soil compaction, soil erosion, or having the wrong type of grass for the local conditions.

The conversion of pastures into row crops has been promoted by Embrapa and the federal government for a number of years. It is seen as a way to limit the pressure on deforestation and as a way to increase agricultural production. It is also a way to help the country meet its goal of greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 75% of the greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil are the result of deforestation and not vehicle traffic or industrial processes. Brazil gets 95% of its electricity from hydroelectric and more than 50% of the fuel consumed by vehicles in the country is ethanol. Therefore, reducing deforestation is seen as the only way to significantly reducing the gas emissions.

Soybean yields in former pasture areas are generally below the statewide average during the first several years after the conversion due to the lower fertility. With three years of proper applications of agricultural limestone and fertilizers, soybean yields on former pasturelands can be just as good as in other areas.

Farmers in the state are already well prepared for the start of the new growing season. Records indicate that 90%-95% of the seeds, fertilizers, and chemicals have already been purchased. Since very little full-season corn is planted in Mato Grosso (62,000 hectares in 2010/11), soybeans will be the first crop planted in the state. Farmers are allowed to start planting their soybean crop on September 16th. The full-season cotton crop in the state will start to be planted in early December. The safrinha corn crop will start to be planted in January after the harvest of the early maturing soybeans.