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February 21, 2012

Safrinha Corn Replacing Alternative Crops in Northwestern Parana

In northwest Parana farmers can choose between a number of crops for their second planting following the soybean harvest - corn, wheat, sunflowers, or canola. Up until this year, farmers in the region had planted a significant amount of wheat and they were experimenting with alternative crops such as sunflowers and canola, but safrinha corn production is now taking over some of those alternative crops including wheat. In the thirty municipalities that compose northwestern Parana, it is estimated that safrinha corn will be planted on 95% of the land destined for a second crop.S

The Secretary of Agriculture in Parana (Seab) estimates that the safrinha corn acreage in the state will increase 10% to 1.89 million hectares in 2011/12 and take over some of the acreage previously devoted to other crops.

Winter wheat production used to be one of the principal alternatives to safrinha corn, but wheat has fallen on hard times in recent years. Wheat is planted later than safrinha corn, which makes it more vulnerable to potential cold weather in June-July-August. That is exactly what happened in 2011 when two killing freezes hit the crop, one when the crop was developing vegetatively and one when it was flowering and heading. In between the periods of freezing temperatures, northwestern Parana experienced a significant drought.

The adverse weather resulted in very low wheat yields and poor quality seed. To make matters even worse, low domestic wheat prices convinced wheat producers in the region that they needed to move on to other crops such as safrinha corn. Farmers also complain that the federal government has not done enough to make wheat cultivation profitable in southern Brazil.

Farmers in the region had also been experimenting with canola and sunflowers over the last several years, but neither crop has really caught on. Embrapa is in the process of developing new higher yielding varieties of these two crops that are adapted to the climate and soils of the region, but until these varieties come onto the market, the yields of the existing sunflower and canola varieties are too low to compete with safrinha corn production.

As long as the domestic and world supply of corn remains tight and corn prices are strong, it is expected that Brazilian farmers will continue to increase their acreage of both full-season and safrinha corn production.