January 14, 2013

Irrigation Slowly Expanding in Brazil, 5% of Grain Crop Irrigated

High commodity prices and irregular weather patterns have convinced some farmers in Brazil to invest in increased irrigated crop production. According to the National Water Agency (ANA), there were 5.4 million hectares of irrigated crops in Brazil in 2010, which represented a 23% increase compared to 2006. Of this total, 2.6 million hectares were grain production which represented only 5% of Brazil's total grain production. The principal irrigated grain crops in Brazil are rice (1.13 million hectares), soybeans (624,000 hectares), corn (559,000 hectares), dry beans (315,000 hectares), and wheat (58,000 hectares). Only 2.3% of Brazil's soybean acreage was irrigated and 7.1% of Brazil's corn acreage was irrigated. The major crops that are irrigated are sugarcane (3.8 million hectares) and rice (1.1 million hectares).

Most of Brazil's irrigation is used for high risk/reward crops such as fruits, vegetables, and flowers where virtually 100% is irrigated.

The National Water Agency estimates that the amount of land irrigated in Brazil is increasing by 120,000 to 200,000 hectares per year and that by the year 2035, there could be 15 million hectares of irrigated land in Brazil. The agency feels that Brazil has the capacity to double the rate of increase and that eventually Brazil could have 30 hectares of land under irrigation.

As row crop production expands in northeastern Brazil, so too does the amount of crop put under irrigation. In the state of Bahia, some farmers are reporting that they achieve 70 bu/ac under irrigation whereas non-irrigated soybean production is much more variable. In Mato Grosso, much of the irrigation is used for safrinha corn production to insure proper grain filling during the dry season. In central Brazil, crops could be grown year-round if enough water resources were available during the dry season which extends from May to September in most areas of central Brazil.