February 23, 2011

New Approach Combines Cattle Grazing and Row Crop Production

The carrying capacity of Brazilian pastureland is less than one cow per hectare (0.9) and according to Professor Carlos Cerri from the University of Sao Paulo that could be increased to 1.4 cows per hectare by simply adopting technology that is already available in the marketplace. Professor Cerri believes the quickest way to improve the carrying capacity of Brazilian pastureland would be the use of improved grass varieties, improved soil fertility, improved cattle genetics, and a novel approach to new methods of grazing cattle.

Most of the increased cattle production in Brazil in recent decades has been from increased amount of land put into pastures and not from increased productivity of existing pastures. Brazil has approximately 180 to 200 million hectares of pastureland and a significant portion of those acres are considered to be degraded. Degraded pastures usually have low levels of soil fertility, high rates of soil erosion and grass varieties that have not been renovated for a long time. Many of these degraded pastures have not been improved since the land was opened up for cattle ranching generations ago.

One novel idea put forth by researchers as a way to increase cattle production involves the combination of row crops and pastures in the same field. The idea is to plant a crop of soybeans at the appropriate time at the beginning of the rainy season. A second crop of corn and grass is then planted immediately after the soybeans have been harvested. After the corn is harvested, the grass remains for grazing during the remainder of the dry season. Researchers feel this could be an appropriate new type of crop rotation for many areas of Mato Grosso and Goias.

In Brazil, the vast majority of new land being clearing in the Amazon Region is for the expansion of cattle ranching and the Brazilian government has been pushing very hard in recent years to limit the amount of land deforested in the Amazon Region. The only way to limit deforestation while at the same time expanding cattle production in the country is to make existing pastures more productive. Professor Cerri feels that Brazilian cattle ranchers could increase their production by 30% in ten years by the use of these new technologies while at the same time using 20 million less hectares of pastures. The freed up pastureland could then be used for expanded row crop production.