June 6, 2013

Brazil Agriculture Would Benefit from Increased use of Limestone

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

The agricultural sector has been one of the best preforming sectors of the Brazilian economy, but it could be even better if Brazilian farmers applied more agricultural limestone to the crops and pastures. That was the assessment of the first National Seminar for Agricultural Limestone held at the Ministry of Agricultural in Brasilia on May 23.

The many benefits of increased use of agricultural limestone include: higher productivity, improved quality of agricultural products, increased incomes for land owners, improved efficiency of agricultural chemicals, improved quality of the products, and reduced carbon emissions. Consumers also benefit from increased use of agricultural limestone due to the lower cost of production and thus lower food costs.

Joao Bellato, who is the director of the Agricultural Limestone Industries of Sao Paulo and the vice president of the Brazilian Association of Limestone Producers (Abracal), indicated that both large and small producers would benefit from increased use of limestone. Agricultural limestone is important for all crops in Brazil including large crops such as soybeans, corn, sugarcane, but also tree crops such as oranges, fruits, and coffee. Additional limestone applications are especially important for small producers who need to maximize their production from small land areas.

Cattle ranching could particularly benefit from increased use of limestone. Many ranchers have generally been inattentive to the use of fertilizers and limestone to improve their pastures. After decades of cattle production, many pastures in Brazil are in a state of degradation due in part to a lack of fertilizer and limestone applications. The carrying capacity of Brazil's pastures could be greatly improved if ranchers renovated their pastures with improved grass varieties and improved fertility. Brazil has one of the largest cattle herds in the world with approximately four times more hectares of pastures than row crops.

Brazil has the potential to use 70 million tons of limestone per year, but only 35 million are used on an annual basis. Virtually all the soils in Brazil would benefit from increased use of agricultural limestone. Due to the excessive leaching from the tropical rainfall, Brazil's soils are acid by nature and agricultural limestone is the best way to neutralize the soil's acidity. In addition to making phosphorus and potassium more available to the crops, increasing the pH of the soil also eliminates the harmful effects of aluminum toxicity, which is a widespread problem in the tropics.

In order to achieve the full benefits of limestone applications, farmers should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Soil tests should be conducted to determine how much limestone is needed.
  • Farmers should consult with agricultural professionals and follow their recommendations.
  • The quality of the limestone should be analyzed to determine how much is needed to correct the soil acidity.
  • Follow recommendations as to the timing and method of application.
  • The residual impact of limestone should be analyzed to determine how often it needs to be reapplied.
  • Monitor the wind speed and direction during application.
  • Calibrate equipment properly in insure accurate application.