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May 24, 2011

Conventional Soybeans (non-GMO) Promoted by Embrapa

Researchers from Embrapa, in conjunction with numerous other farmer and research organizations in the state, recently conducted a series of field days in Mato Grosso promoting the use of conventional soybeans (non-GMO). A significant number of farmers in the state feel that they are best positioned in Brazil to supply the niche market around the world that continues to demand GMO-free soybeans. Brazil is the only major soybean producer where a significant amount of conventional soybeans are still grown. In response, Embrapa has been putting additional resources and emphasis on the continued development of conventional soybean varieties adapted for production in Mato Grosso.

More than 2,000 producers attended the 19 field day demonstrations recently held around the state. The field days highlighted the new conventional soybean varieties released by Embrapa as well as the economics of growing conventional soybeans.

Yields of conventional soybeans are very comparable to those of GMO soybeans and part of the field days was devoted to highlight the lower costs of growing conventional soybeans. According to the Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics (Imea), the average variable cost of producing conventional soybeans in Mato Grosso (costs that were directly associated with the type of soybeans grown) last growing season was R$ 366 per hectare or 14.6% lower than the R$ 429 per hectare associated with growing Roundup Ready soybeans. The higher cost of growing Roundup Ready soybeans was associated with higher seed costs, paying the technology fee, and additional chemical costs. The savings associated with conventional soybeans, R$ 63.00 per hectare, was the equivalent of about 1.5 sacks of soybeans per hectare (1.3 bushels per acre).

Conventional soybeans are produced mainly for the European and Asian markets that want GMO-free soybeans. The additional cost associated with keeping the conventional soybeans identity preserved throughout the transportation process is more than offset by a premium the buyers are willing to pay for non-GMO soybeans (in the range of US$ 0.50 per bushel).

The state of Mato Grosso will probably continue to be the principal producer of conventional soybeans in Brazil because of the unique export opportunities offered in the state. Conventional soybeans produced in northern and western Mato Grosso can be shipped out of Brazil via the Port of Itacoatiara on the Amazon River. This port is operated by the Maggi Group and they are trying to keep the port GMO free so that they can guarantee their customers that their shipments are free of GMO soybeans.

No other port in Brazil can make that claim. In fact, even though a farmer may want to grow conventional soybeans in southern Brazil, as soon as he sells his conventional soybeans to a grain company, his conventional soybeans are readily mixed with GMO soybeans and the identity is lost.