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July 11, 2011

Embrapa Releases Improved Grasses for Amazon Region of Brazil

Cattle ranching is the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon Region of Brazil and researchers in Brazil have been emphasizing increased productivity of Brazil's pastures as a way of lessening the need to clear new land. Researchers from Embrapa estimate that of the 40 million hectares of pastures in the Amazon Region of Brazil, approximately half are either already degraded or in the process of degrading. A degraded pasture in Brazil is defined as a pasture with a low carrying capacity or an area subject to severe erosion. Nationwide, the carrying capacity of Brazil's pastures averages approximately 0.9 head of cattle per hectare.

The principal problem in the Amazon Region is that ranchers use pasture grasses that are more suited to central and southern Brazil and not to the soils or climate of the Amazon Region. The northern regions of Brazil have a distinct rainy season and dry season. During the rainy season, the region can be inundated with rainfall for several months at a time. In contrast, the dry season can persist for several months during which there will not be any rainfall at all. The pasture grasses therefore must be able to withstand prolonged periods of saturated or flooded conditions followed by prolonged periods of hot and dry conditions. Unfortunately, the pasture grasses common to central and southern Brazil perform poorly under these conditions.

As a result of years of experimenting, Embrapa has launched several new varieties of tropical grasses that they feel are much better adapted to the environment in northern Brazil. These new varieties are above average in nutrient value and they can withstand the flooded conditions that are so harmful to non-adopted grasses. The recently released 2011/12 Harvest Plan for Brazil emphasized low interest loans for cattle ranchers interested in renovating their degraded pastures with these new grass varieties.

Pasture improvements are part of a larger goal in Brazil to increase cattle production and crop production while at the same time reducing deforestation rates in Brazil as well. Deforestation is the source of approximately 70% of the greenhouse gasses released in Brazil and the federal government feels the fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce the rate of deforestation. In that light, Brazilian researchers have emphasized the need to increase the productivity of both row crops and pastures as a way to increase overall agricultural production while at the same time lessoning the pressure to clear new land.

Approximately one fourth of Brazil's land area is devoted to pastures and the pasture acreage in Brazil is about four times larger than the area devoted to row crop production.