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January 12, 2012

Study Indicates Soy Not Responsible for Amazon Deforestation

Results of a study recently released by the American Academy of Science confirmed that the expansion of soybean production in Mato Grosso between the years of 2006 and 2010 was not directly related to deforestation in the Amazon Region of Brazil. During the study period, the rate of deforestation actually declined while at the same time, soybean production reached record levels. The study was conducted jointly by Columbia University, NASA, the Brazilian National Institute for Space Studies (Inpe), and the Brazilian Amazonian Institute for Environmental Research (Ipam).

The researchers attribute the decline in deforestation to three factors. The first is the implementation of what is called the Soybean Moratorium. As part of the moratorium, grain companies, soybean processors, and exporters in Brazil agreed to not purchase any soybeans that were grown in illegally deforested areas. As a result, there was no incentive for farmers to clear additional land to cultivate soybeans. The second factor is much stricter enforcement of environmental laws. The enforcement is being aided by the use of real-time remote sensing which allows officials to quickly identify and suspend illegal clearing operations. The third factor was the relatively low soybean prices during 2006 and 2007, which reduced any financial incentive for expanding soybean production.

Brazil has been making steady progress on reducing deforestation in the Amazon Region. Between 1996 and 2005, 76,570 square kilometers of Amazon forest was cut at an annual rate of 7,657 square kilometers per year, but that was reduced to 2,437 square kilometers annually between 2006 and 2010. Official figures are not in yet, but 2011 is expected to show the least amount of deforestation since records started to be compiled. The vast majority of deforestation in Brazil is for cattle ranching.

The increase production of soybeans in Brazil is due to increased productivity per hectare and expansion of soybean cultivation in the cerrado regions of Brazil as well as the conversion of pastureland to additional soybean production. In fact, most of the increased soybean acreage in 2011/12 is from the utilization of former pastures to produce soybeans.

Mato Grosso is the leading soybean producing state in Brazil responsible for approximately 31% of the country's total production. The state also has the largest cattle herd in the country