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November 18, 2011

"Soybean Free Program" Promoted in Southern Brazil

Proponents of conventional soybean production in Brazil (non-GMO) are pressing forward with their plans to expand conventional soybean production in southern Brazil. The Brazilian Association of non-GMO Grain Producers (Abrange), in association with Embrapa and several research foundations are setting up a series of 18 research demonstrations in the states of Parana, Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso do Sul, Sao Paulo, and Goias promoting the production of conventional soybeans. Their combined efforts are collectively called the Soybean Free Program.

This movement to return to conventional soybean production is being driven by increasing problems of Roundup resistant weeds that continue to spread across Brazil. The use of conventional soybeans would allow the farmers to use different types of herbicides other than Roundup to control the resistant weeds.

Farmers readily adopted Roundup Ready soybeans because they are cheaper to grow. Roundup herbicide is one of the cheapest herbicides on the market and the use of GMO soybeans also offers the farmers additional flexibility as to when the herbicides must be applied. Roundup herbicide can be applied to Roundup Ready soybeans virtually any time during the early growing season, whereas other herbicides have a narrower timeframe for application.

Researchers feel there is an opportunity for conventional soybeans to regain some of its lost acreage in southern Brazil and especially in the state of Parana due to the nature of soybean production in the state. The state is the second leading soybean producing state in Brazil and yet 85% of the farms in the state consist of 50 hectares or less and many of the soybean farmers hire out planting, spraying and harvesting activities.

According to the Parana Association of Seed Producers (Apasem), 90% of the seed sold for the 2010/11 growing season were GMO varieties and 10% were conventional. The long term goal of the Soybean Free Program in Parana is to increase the conventional soybean market share to 25%, which is similar to what currently exists in the state of Mato Grosso.

Embrapa is actively developing new high yielding conventional soybeans to help offset the higher cost of producing conventional soybeans. One of the additional costs in producing conventional soybeans is the segregation of the conventional soybeans after harvest to avoid cross contamination with GMO soybeans. Embrapa has developed a manual detailing what producers must do to avoid this cross contamination and they are also urging the grain companies to assist in producer training.

The Soybean Free Program was initiated in Mato Grosso during the 2010/11 growing season through joint efforts of Embrapa, the Mato Grosso Association of Soybean and Corn Producers (Aprosoja), and the Brazilian Association of non-GMO Grain Producers (Abrange). They were assisted in their efforts by various research foundations and the Amaggi Grain Company. Amaggi has great interest in the program because they operate a grain terminal on the Amazon River that is a GMO free facility. They originate the conventional soybeans from western Mato Grosso and they are offering a premium to producers of approximately US$ 0.50 per bushel for the conventional soybeans.