May 21, 2013

Brazil Wants to Double the Amount of Irrigation within Six Years

According to the Agricultural and Livestock Confederation of Brazil (CNA), Brazilian farmers are currently utilization only 15% of the irrigation potential in Brazil. Approximately five million hectares of crops are irrigated in Brazil and the government wants to double that amount within six years. The two most irrigated crops in Brazil currently are sugarcane and rice in southern and southeastern Brazil.

The director of the National Irrigation Plan in conjunction with the National Water Agency has been directed to develop a plan of action by October of this year detailing what would be needed to double the amount of irrigation in Brazil within six years. The plan is to include where in Brazil is the greatest potential for increased irrigation and what crops would benefit the most from irrigation.

The plan is also to look at the amount of financing needed to purchase the equipment needed to accomplish the goal, the water resources available, potential environmental impacts, the local infrastructure, and electrical energy needs.

Brazil's inadequate infrastructure is already under pressure of record large crops and increasing the amount of irrigation would increase production even more. Therefore, part of the irrigation plan is also to look at increasing the amount of storage space available and improved modes of transporting the production as well.

There are two likely regions where increased irrigation would be needed the most. The region in greatest need of irrigation is the semi-arid region of northeastern Brazil. Northeastern Brazil is currently in the grip of a severe drought that started two years ago. Many of the subsistent farmers in the region have had multiple crop failures in recent years and they are largely dependent on government assistance for their livelihoods. These subsistent farmers generally produce crops for their own consumption and to maintain their small livestock operations.

The other region where irrigation would be very beneficial is the cerrado region of central Brazil. If done correctly in central Brazil, three crops per year could be produced with the aid of irrigation. The cerrado region of central Brazil has a very distinct rainy season and dry season. The rains usually start in September or October and the end in April or May. Between May and September, very little precipitation falls even though the temperatures are warm enough for crop production (80's and 90'ts daytime highs).

This is an area of commercial agriculture with large areas of soybeans, corn, sugarcane, and cotton production. Farmers in central Brazil are already producing two crops per year, a first crop of soybeans and a second crop of corn. If irrigation was available, a third crop could be produced during the dry season. What that third crop might be is yet to be determined. It could be a small grain such as wheat, which is the only crop for which Brazil is not self-sufficient, or it could be grain sorghum, canola, sunflowers, cotton, dry beans, or other crops yet untested.