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November 1, 2013

Soy in Southern Sao Paulo taking Corn and Sugarcane Acreage

The trend for the 2013/14 growing season in Brazil is for farmers to increase their soybean acreage and to reduce their acreage of full-season corn and in some cases, even sugarcane. That is what is happening in southern Sao Paulo where very little full-season corn is being planted this growing season and the sugarcane acreage is expected to decline 5%.

The state of Sao Paulo is famous for its sugarcane, coffee, orange, and cattle production, but most of that activity occurs in the northern part of the state. The grain production in the state occurs in the southern regions in municipalities such as Assis, Ourinhos, Candido Mota, Itabera, and Itapeva.

Sugarcane is not the principal crop in southern Sao Paulo and farmers are taking advantage of the need to renovate their sugarcane fields to plant more soybeans instead. Sugarcane fields need to be renovated every 5-6 years in order to maintain a high level of productivity. During the renovation process, the old sugarcane is plowed up and new cane is planted resulting in no income from the field for the first year. With weak sugarcane prices and a lack of sugar mills in the region, some farmers now view soybeans as a better economic alternative than sugarcane.

Farmers in the region are also taking advantage of their first opportunity to grow commercial qualities of Intacta RR2 soybeans from Monsanto. This is the first new soybean variety with the Bt gene that makes the soybeans resistant to many of the leaf-eating insects that afflict soybean production in Brazil. Most farmers who have the Intacta soybeans are planting only small acreages this growing season to see how it performs.

The big question on many farmers' minds is how Intacta will perform against the corn earworm (Helicoverpa armigera) which is a new pest in the region. The company says that Intacta will be resistant to 95% of the corn earworm caterpillar. During the last two growing season, Monsanto authorized 1,500 farmers in Brazil to plant the soybeans in small test plots, but all the seed had to be discarded. The Brazilian government authorized the new technology two years ago, but Monsanto kept it off the market until China gave its approval, which occurred this past June.