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September 28, 2011

Controlling Soybean Rust in Brazil Comes at a High Financial Cost

Brazilian soybean farmers are not as concerned about soybean rust as they once were. In the ten years since the disease has been in the country, Brazilian scientists and producers have developed successful strategies that keep losses from the disease to a manageable level. These strategies include: application of the correct fungicides at the right time and in the right amount, planting soybean varieties that are more resistant to the disease, and observing to the 90-day soybean free period between June 15 and September 15.

During the first few years that the disease was identified in Brazil, the disease spread quickly and the losses were extremely high. At its worse, it was estimated that the disease reduced Brazilian soybean production by 5 million tons per year. Those losses have been significantly reduced, but it has come at a high financial cost. According to the Mato Grosso Association of Corn and Soybean producers (Aprosoja), in all of Brazil, it is estimated that the disease has cost Brazilian farmers a total of R$ 36 billion including lost production, chemical costs, time and labor needed to control the disease, and research costs directed at controlling the disease. In Mato Grosso alone, the cost is estimated at R$ 9.2 billion.

The 90-day soybean free period is credited with keeping the disease from entering commercial soybean fields early in the growing season. The earlier the disease is detected in a soybean field, the more fungicide applications that are needed to control it. This prohibition went into effect in 2006 and it has been considered very successful. During this past 90 day period, thirty producers in Mato Grosso were issued fines because live soybean plants were found on their property. All of the soybeans were volunteer plants that germinated on the edges of the fields, along the roadways, or near storage facilities.

No producer was issued a fine in 2011 for intentionally planting soybeans during the prohibition period. If they had planted soybeans intentionally, the fine is very substantial. If a producer in Mato Grosso had planted one thousand hectares of prohibited soybeans the fine would be R$ 73,000 in addition to the expense of destroying the crop.