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May 21, 2012

Integrating Production of Grain and Cattle Holds Promise in Brazil

During a recent meeting in Maringa, Parana, more than 500 participants including researchers, farmers, ranchers, and government officials discussed the integration of crop production, cattle ranching, and forestry as a way to revolutionize Brazilian agriculture. For decades, the primary way of increasing crop production in Brazil has been to simply clear more virgin land to plant crops. That practice has now become much more difficult due to stricter environmental regulations. Therefore, Brazilian farmers and ranchers are being forced to increase their production on their existing land, which was the focus of the recent forum.

The Brazilian research agency Embrapa has been promoting the use of degraded pastures as a way to increase crop production for many years and they feel they have developed sustainable systems that can increase both grain production and cattle production from the same area. These systems include the rotation of grain production, cattle grazing, and even reforestation for pulp production on a long-term rotational basis.

According to Embrapa scientists, there are a hundred million hectares of degraded pastures in Brazil. These are pastures that have low fertility and low carrying capacity for cattle due to poor management and increased erosion. My utilizing the integrated approach, both grain production and beef production can be significantly increased. Only two million hectares of land in Brazil have been integrated and the popularity of the system is gaining momentum as property owners realize the long-term benefits of the system.

According to the Agronomic Institute of Parana (Iapar), they have been conducting research in this area for 20 years and approximately 300,000 hectares in the state use the interrogated system. Even with the drought that impacted crop production in 2011/12, the average soybean yield with this system in recent years has been 2,760 kg/ha (40 bu/ac) while at the same time the carrying capacity of the pastures have gone from one head per hectare to 2.5 head per hectare in the summer and 8 head per hectare in the winter.

These degraded pastures in Brazil have low fertility because of the heavy leaching out of the nutrients due to the tropical nature of the Brazilian climate. If these nutrients are not replenished periodically the soils became very nutrient poor resulting in low productivity. The basis of this integrated system is to rebuild the nutrients in the soil and to maintain a high level of productivity by the use of long-term rotations.