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October 15, 2013

Embrapa Stresses Conventional (non-GMO) Soy Program in Brazil

The Brazilian research service Embrapa is working closely with various farm organizations and commodity groups to strengthen their program dedicated to the development of more conventional soybean varieties (non-GMO) for the Brazilian market. The "Soybean Free" program as it is called was started in 2009 to insure that Brazilian farmers would still have the option to plant conventional soybeans and not just herbicide resistant soybeans. Over the ensuing years, Embrapa has now developed 35 high yielding conventional soybean varieties that could be grown in virtually all regions of the country.

Conventional soybeans represent 11% of the soybeans grown in Brazil and 23% of the soybeans grown in the state of Mato Grosso, which is Brazil'rs largest soybean producing state. Mato Grosso has the largest percentage of conventional soybeans because many of the soybeans produced in the western part of the state are exported out of ports on the Amazon River where it is easier to maintain the identity of the conventional soybeans.

Since Brazil is virtually the only major soybean producing country where conventional soybeans are still produced in large quantities, companies from Europe to Asia seek out the conventional soybeans for the production of organic foods especially those directed toward children. These companies are willing to pay a premium for conventional soybeans, which last year in Brazil averaged about US$ 2.50 per sack of 60 kilograms or approximately US$ 1.15 per bushel.

The premiums help to offset the higher cost of the herbicides used in conventional soybean production. The higher herbicide costs makes conventional soybean production a little more expensive than GMO soybean production, but there are no royalties to be paid for planting conventional soybeans. With the premium and lack of royalty payments, many farmers say they can actually make more money growing conventional soybeans.

Conventional soybean production requires a higher level of management in the production process and it requires more efforts to keep the identity preserved all throughout the transportation chain. An ongoing trend in Brazil that will help this process of keeping the identity of the conventional preserved is the increasing use of shipping out the soybeans in containers. In fact a new port being built on the Madeira River in the state of Rondonia will have the capacity to load such containers.

The use of conventional soybeans also allows farmers better control the increasing amount of herbicide resistant weeds in Brazil and they fit into a program of sustainable soybean production being developed in Brazil.

All the private seed companies have directed their soybean research efforts toward the development of new GMO soybean varieties due to better profit opportunities. So therefore, it was left to Embrapa to conduct the public research needed to maintain high yielding conventional soybean varieties.