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December 3, 2010

Parana Leads Brazil in Percentage of GMO Crops

A decade ago, the state of Parana, located in southern Brazil, was known for its resistance to GMO crops, both soybeans and corn. The governor and the state legislature enacted laws that prohibited any GMO seeds from entering into the state and even research involving these varieties was prohibited. Those laws were declared unconstitutional in 2003 by the Brazilian Supreme Court, which then cleared the way for farmers in the state to purchase and plant GMO varieties of both soybeans and corn.

Today, the state of Parana has the highest percentage of GMO soybeans and corn of any major producing state in the country. According to the State Federation of Agriculture (Faep) and the Parana Cooperatives Organization (Ocepar), as much as 80% of the soybeans and corn grown in the state for the 2010/11 growing season are GMO crops.

Farmers in the state have been quick adopters of the new technology because it reduces their cost of production. The yield potential for GMO soybeans and conventional soybeans are very similar, but the GMO varieties have a lower cost of production due to the lower cost of Roundup herbicide compared to other herbicides.

Roundup Ready soybeans were quickly adopted in the state also because the trait was primarily introduced into short cycle soybeans, which are becoming more and more popular in the state. These short cycle soybeans can be harvested as much as a month earlier than later cycle soybeans, which gives the farmers an opportunity to plant a second crop of corn after the soybeans are harvested. Short cycle soybeans are generally lower yielding than later cycle varieties, but the opportunity to plant a second crop of corn offers the farmers a greater return when both crops are considered.

Crop specialists from Faep and Ocepar do not think that the state will become 100% GMO soybeans for two reasons. The first and primary reason is the fact that some of Parana's European customers are willing to pay a premium for conventional soybeans. Today, importers in France are paying a premium of R$ 2 per sack of 60 kilograms for conventional soybeans (approximately US$ 0.55 per bushel). In fact, just recently a new cooperative was formed in Parana by farmers who want to continue producing conventional soybeans primarily for the European market.

The second reason why the state will probably not become 100% GMO is the fear of Roundup resistant weeds. Roundup resistant weeds have already become a problem in parts of the state (as well in other parts of Brazil and the United States) which is forcing farmers to use different herbicides to keep the weeds under control. Once resistance starts to develop, the situation only gets worse if different herbicides are not used.