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July 14, 2020

Clearing of Native Cerrado Land in Brazil Lowest in 18 Years

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Much of the agricultural expansion in Brazil over the past four decades has been in the cerrado regions of central Brazil, but the clearing of cerrado land is now at its lowest level in 18 years and the conversion of degraded pastures to row crop production is now the major source of expanding soybean acreage in Brazil.

The cerrado is the second largest biome in Brazil occupying 204 million acres (503 million acres) with 52% still in its native vegetation. The cerrado has very low native fertility because it is highly leached by the heavy tropical rains, but with the proper application of agricultural limestone along with phosphorus and potassium, it can be highly productive. Today, 51% of Brazil's soybeans are grown in the cerrado areas.

According to a study conducted by the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove) in association with Agrosatelite, between 2001 and 2006, there were 215,000 hectares of cerrado cleared on an annual basis (531,000 acres). That declined to 73,000 hectares annually between 2014 and 2018 (180,000 acres).

The study indicated that the amount of soybeans grown in the cerrado areas increased 2.4 times over the last 18 years from 7.5 million hectares (18.5 million acres) during the 2000/01 growing season to 18.2 million hectares (44.9 million acres) during the 2018/19 growing season when soybeans occupied 8.9% of Brazil's cerrado areas. During the same period, the soybean productivity increased 30% due to genetic improvement and improved cultural practices.

Approximately one third of the soybean expansion during that period occurred in northeastern Brazil in the states of Maranhao, Tocantins, Piaui, and Bahia, which is commonly referred to as Matopiba (Ma from Maranhao, to from Tocantins, pi from Piaui, and ba from Bahia). The soybean acreage in Matopiba went from 0.9 million hectares (2.2 million acres) to 4.1 million hectares (10.1 million acres).

As the clearing of cerrado land slowed in the traditional cerrado states of central Brazil in recent years (not including northeastern Brazil), the conversion of degraded pastures to row crop production became the major source of new soybean acreage. Between 2014 and 2018, 67% of the new soybean acreage in the traditional cerrado states of central Brazil came from pasture conversions while 4.4% came from the clearing of native cerrado land.

The Director of Agrosatelite indicated that by the 2028/29 growing season, the Brazilian soybean acreage in the traditional cerrado areas could increase by as much as 5 million hectares (12.3 million hectares) and it would almost exclusively be accomplished by pasture conversions.