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October 31, 2011

Brazilian Corn Yields Rise Dramatically With GMO Hybrids

One of the true success stories of Brazilian agriculture in recent years has been the improved corn yields and the explosive growth of the safrinha corn crop in Mato Grosso and Parana. Over 90% of the corn grown in Mato Grosso is now planted as a double crop after the harvest of the first crop of soybeans. This allows farmers to greatly improve their productivity per hectare and it also serves as a de facto form of crop rotations.

During the 2005/06 growing season, Conab estimated the average corn yield in Mato Grosso was 46 sacks per hectare or 2,760 kg/ha (42.5 bu/ac). The Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics (Imea) estimated the average corn yield in 2010/11 was 53 sacks per hectare or 3,180 kg/ha (49 bu/ac), which represented an increase of 15%. The 2010/11 corn crop suffered lower yields due to adverse weather, whereas the 2009/10 growing season was very good and corn yields in the state averaged 4,047 kg/ha or 62 bu/ac. If you compare the 2009/10 crop with that of 2005/06, corn yields increased 46% over four years.

A lot of factors have contributed to the improved corn yields in Brazil, but none is bigger than the introduction of GMO corn hybrids in 2005. The Brazilian farmers have embraced this new technology with open arms and Monsanto estimates that 70% of the corn grown in Mato Grosso during the last growing season contained at least one biotechnology trait. The company estimates that 90% of the corn that will be planted next January and February will have at least one biotechnology trait.

In addition to the introduction of biotechnology, the seed companies in Brazil have also developed corn hybrids that are specifically adapted to safrinha corn production in central Brazil. In years past, farmers utilized corn hybrids that were developed for full-season production southern Brazil with limited success.

In addition to new corn hybrids, farmers have also invested heavily in improved soil fertility, weed control, and improved planters and combines. The one drawback of using the new machinery has been the lack of trained operators to fully utilize the new technology.

Researchers and farmers are expecting corn yields to continue to increase in central Brazil as seed companies introduce new corn hybrids developed specifically for safrinha corn production. As a result, the biggest problem in the future may not be how to produce the corn, but rather how to transport the ever increasing corn production to end users in southern Brazil or exporters at the distant Brazilian ports.