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February 15, 2019

Brazil's New Agricultural Frontier - Sandy Soils

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

There has been a lot written about Brazil's agricultural expansion over the years as they emerged as the number one competitor for U.S. agriculture. There have also been a lot of concerns about deforestation and environmental damage as Brazil's agricultural production increased. One thing everyone can agree on is that it is better to increase the productivy on existing land instead of clearing new land to expand agricultural production.

With that in mind, an estimated 700 Brazilian scientists, agricultural professionals, government officials, agribusiness personnel, students, and environmental representatives are scheduled to participate in the III Brazilian Symposium of Sandy Soils to be held in May in the city of Campo Grande, which is the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul. Sandy soils have generally been shunned by farmers in Brazil interested in intensive agriculture because of their low productivity, but many are now pointing to sandy soils as the new agricultural frontier in Brazil.

There are many challenges associated with sandy soils such as: poor water holding capacity, low natural fertility, high aluminum levels (aluminum is generally toxic to plants), low organic matter, and they are highly erosive and easily degraded. There are also positive aspects of sandy soils including: they are generally deep, they have a relatively flat topography, they can be found close to existing infrastructure and consumers, and they can be irrigated.

Scientists at Embrapa have developed numerous cropping systems designed to make sandy soils more productive. One of the first technologies employed was No-Till Planting which helps to conserve existing soil moisture and it encourages increased water infiltration. One of the newer technologies has been Integrated Crops and Livestock rotations in which pastures are rotated with crop production resulting in increased crop production and livestock production.

The latest technology is Integrated Crop-Livestock-Forestry rotations. This system includes rotations of crops and pastures within forestry plantations. These systems improve the fertility of the soil and they increase the organic matter, both of which are critical components of soil fertility.

In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul alone, there are an estimated 8 million hectares of sandy soils (19.7 million acres) which are currently mostly pastures with a low carrying capacity. Across central Brazil, there are many millions of hectares of sandy soils which could be converted to intensive agriculture.

The symposium is sponsored by the Brazilian Soil Science Society (SBCS) and Embrapa and it will be held on the campus of the State University of Mato Grosso do Sul.