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May 28, 2013

Poor Pasture Management Results in low Productivity in Mato Grosso

Agronomists from the Ranchers Association of Mato Grosso (Acrimat) are reporting that ranchers in the northern part of the state are losing money due to poor pasture management. They report that 80% of the pastures in northern Mato Grosso have low productivity and that 30-35% is in a degraded state. In the worst cases the pastures are actually dying. The problem of dying pastures in the state has been reported for 30 years, but it is now becoming worse each year.

The problem is believed to be caused by several factors including: soils which have a high clay content that impedes water infiltration, heavy rainfall in the area, low soil fertility, fungal diseases, and poor pasture management. During periods of heavy rainfall (November to March), the pastures are inundated with standing water and the result is dying pastures.

When the area was first cleared of forest and converted to pastures, the soils were very fertile, but subsequent leaching of the nutrients by the tropical rains and excessive grazing has lowered the productivity of the pastures. The average carrying capacity of the pastures in the state is 0.76 head of cattle per hectare, but once the pastures are renovated, the carrying capacity can triple.

The solution to the problem is to renovate the pastures with grass species more resistant to saturated soil conditions, apply the fertilizers needed to restore the fertility, and to improve pasture management. Unfortunately, renovating pastures is an expensive process and during the renovation, the rancher's income is reduced. Therefore, without the availability of credit from either the government or banks, many ranchers are reluctant to start the process. Instead, they continue to overgraze the pastures making the situation even worse. Many of the pastures were established 20-30 years ago and they have never received any additional fertilizers over that period.

These low carrying capacities and subsequently lower incomes is one of the reasons why ranchers in the state have been converting some of their pastures to row crop production. During the 2012/13 growing season it is estimated that 800,000 hectares of pastures in the state were converted to soybean and corn production. If commodity prices remain strong, ranchers will continue converting their degraded pastures to additional row crop production.