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May 3, 2013

Mega Trends Help Improve Agricultural Productivity in Brazil

Brazilian farmers continue to be ever-focused on increasing their agricultural production. Part of that focus is evident in the mega trends that have emerged in Brazilian agriculture in recent years including: record acreage of soybean production, huge increases in safrinha corn production, increased use of no-till farming, and the introduction of precision agriculture.

In their April report, Conab estimated that the Brazilian soybean crop would be 81.9 million tons and that the corn crop would be 77.4 million tons. Both of these would be new records for Brazil as farmers take advantage of strong commodity prices to increase their crop acreage. The 2012/13 safrinha corn production in Brazil is expected to account for nearly 55% of Brazil'Ms total corn crop. A decade ago, a second crop of corn planted after the first crop of soybeans was harvested was just a novelty. That novelty has now become the staple of Brazilian corn production.

Not only have farmers increased the acreage of their two main crops, they have also improved the productivity as well. Part of that improved productivity has been the result of increased use of no-till farming. Recent studies conducted by Embrapa indicate that crop yields can be increased by as much as 20% if farmers switched from conventional tillage to no-till farming. No-till farming offers many advantages including: reduced erosion, improved fertility, reduced costs, and improved labor management.

In the hiller regions of southern Brazil, soil erosion was a tremendous problem before the introduction of no-till farming. Once no-till farming was introduced, soil erosion was reduced up to seven fold in many regions. Water infiltration and water retention is also improved with no-till techniques. Soil fertility is improved with the increase in soil organic matter which can be increased as much as 50% with no-till farming. Production costs are also reduced by using less fuel and labor. Even carbon emissions are reduced by an estimate 20 million tons in Brazil due to the use of no-till farming.

In some areas of southern Brazil, no-till is employed on as much as 80% of the crop acreage. In central Brazil, the percentage is lower primarily due to the fact that the area is much flatter and erosion is not as big of a concern.

Another emerging trend has been the introduction of precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is a comprehensive system of monitoring crop yields and applying only the inputs needed in specific regions of a field. Variable rate application equipment is used to only apply enough inputs needed to maximize production. After the initial setup costs, precision agriculture can save on input costs while maximizing the productivity of individual regions of a field. The Minister of Agriculture has already instructed Conab to identify which industries and agricultural properties that could benefit the most for this new technology.