May 25, 2017

Farmers in NE Brazil starting to Grow Two Crops per Year

There is a movement afoot in northeastern Brazil that is very similar to what happened in the state of Mato Grosso over the last decade. The farmers in northeastern Brazil are adjusting their cropping practices in order to grow two crops per year - a first crop of soybeans and a second crop of corn. That is what happened in Mato Grosso over the past decade and now the state is the largest corn producing state in Brazil.

This change in cropping pattern is best exemplified in the region of Balsas in the southern part of the state of Maranhao. In recent years, the state of Maranhao has been on the forefront of the agricultural frontier in Brazil. The region offers a lot of advantages including: cheap land, proximity to the Port of Itiqui, and it is close to the chronic corn deficit region of northeastern Brazil.

The problems in the region is that the cerrado soil is generally infertile, the summer rainy season is relatively short, and the crops grown in the area have too long of a growth cycle to allow for two crops per year without irrigation.

The summer rainy season lasts approximately 6-7 months and up until recently, that only allowed for one crop or soybeans or corn per year. The goal now of farmers in the region is to utilize early maturity soybean varieties and corn hybrids that will allow for two crops per year.

Farmers in the region have joined together with seed suppliers to start a pilot project called "Sustainable Cerrado." The project started small with only 5-6,000 hectares, but it is now 120-140,000 hectares and it is expected to expand to 240,000 hectares in the next few years. The seed suppliers have brought in early maturing corn hybrids to compliment the early maturing soybeans already being planted in the region. The project also includes increased fertilizer use and improved cultural practices in order to maximize the yields of both crops.

There are already early maturing soybeans being grown in the region and now they are working on corn hybrids that can mature in 100-105 days. If the early maturing corn can be planted by March 10th and if it can pollinate and start filling grain within 45 days after emergence, then relatively good corn yields can be expected without supplemental irrigation.

The cost of producing a second crop of corn in the region is in the range of 42 to 45 sacks per hectare (36.5 to 39 bu/ac) and the yields could be as high as 100 sacks per hectare (92 bu/ac). The biggest advantage of producing a second crop of corn though would be in the price of corn. Since the corn production is close to where it is needed in northeastern Brazil, it can command a much better price than corn produced in distant Mato Grosso. Current prices for corn in the region are in the range of R$ 22 to R$ 24 per sack ($3.22 to $3.51) compared to R$ 16 per sack in Mato Grosso ($2.34).

A local farmer, Valdemir Rossetto, is the leader of the group and he is convinced that a two-crop system can be developed without the use of supplemental irrigation. His objective is to product up to 6,000 kg/ha of soybeans (87 bu/ac), followed by a second corn crop that produces up to 9,000 kg/ha (138 bu/ac).