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December 20, 2010

GM Crop Production Advances in Brazil

The use of GM crops in Brazil continues its rapid increase. During the 2010/11 growing season, the soybean crop in Brazil is estimated to be 84.5% GM, which is an increase of 24% compared to the last growing season. The corn crop in Brazil is estimated to be 76% GM, which is an increase of 47% compared to last growing season. GM corn hybrids have only been available in large scale for two growing season and already Brazilian farmers have planted them on three quarters of Brazil's corn acres. Brazilian farmers have adopted GM soybeans at a slower pace than they have embraced GM corn hybrids. GM soybean varieties have been officially available in Brazil for five growing seasons, but unofficially, they have been used in far southern Brazil for more than a decade.

GM corn hybrids have been so quickly adopted because of the immediate cost savings to Brazilian farmers. Insects are a big concern for corn growers in Brazil and these GM corn hybrids allows farmers to either greatly reduce or completely eliminate the need for insecticides to produce the crop. The cost savings for soybean farmers are less dramatic, but farmers have nevertheless been planting the new soybean varieties as soon as adopted varieties become available for their region.

Currently only herbicide resistant soybean varieties are available for planting in Brazil, but more traits will become available as soon as next year including traits that allow soybeans to tolerate longer periods of dryness with less impact on yields. For corn, there are hybrids available for insect and herbicide resistance and more "stacked traits" will be available for the 2010/11 growing season.

For growers, processors, and exporters who want to use and sell conventional grain, the current trend is very worrisome. Only 15% of the soybeans and 24% of the corn grown in Brazil are conventional varieties, but that percent drops even further once the crops are harvested and mixing the two types of grain occurs in storage. It's estimated that Brazil's soybean and corn crops are essentially at least 90% GM due to mixtures of GM and conventional seeds after harvest. This post-harvest mixing is making it much more difficult for Brazilian processors and exporters to certify that their products are GM free.