May 31, 2012

Agricultural Limestone Essential for Brazilian Crop Productivity

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

One of the keys to increased grain production in Brazil has been correcting for the low level of native fertility in Brazilian soils. An important component of that correction is the application of high quality agricultural limestone. Agricultural limestone can neutralize the high level of acidity found in Brazilian soils and supply vital plant nutrients as well.

One of the primary sources of high quality agricultural limestone has been the quarries found in eastern Parana. According to industry information, there are 30 companies that extract agricultural limestone in the state of Parana and collectively they produced 4.2 million tons of limestone in 2011. The limestone in Parana is highly sought after due to its high levels of calcium and magnesium. These quarries produce 23% of the agricultural limestone consumed in Brazil and they expect their sales to increase 15% in 2012 as Brazilian farmers increase their soybean acreage.

The producers in Parana not only sell their agricultural limestone within the state of Parana, but also to neighboring states and even as far away as Mato Grosso. Farmers in Mato Grosso feel the expense of transporting the agricultural limestone such a great distance is compensated for by the high quality of the product. The average cost of purchasing the agricultural limestone is approximately R$ 25 per ton, but the transportation cost can be as high as R$ 60 per ton to get the material to Mato Grosso. The main reason for the high costs is the fact that most of the limestone is transported by truck with only a small amount moving by rail.

Agricultural limestone is also being promoted by researchers as a way to increase the carrying capacity of Brazil'fds pastures. Brazil has four times as many acres of pastures as it does row crops and many of those pastures are considered degraded. These degraded pastures are of very low fertility due mainly to the fact that they were put into pastures generations ago and little effort has been made over the years to maintain the fertility. As a result, the carrying capacity of the pastures is very low. In the state of Parana there is an estimated 2 million hectares of sub-par pastures which results in a statewide carrying capacity of only 0.4 head per hectare. The Brazilian Association of Agribusiness (Abage) estimates that it takes a minimum of 1 head per hectare to make a sustained profit raising cattle.

Abage feels that the market for agricultural limestone would be even stronger if ranchers had the financial resources to use limestone to regenerate their pastures.