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Brazilian farmers turn to GM soybeans, Bt corn

Agriculture.com Staff 12/08/2009 @ 1:46pm

The 2009-10 planting of genetically modified seeds exceeded the cultivation of conventional crops in Brazil, shows a country-wide survey conducted by RPC Crop Expedition PRC (a Brazilian media company).

Industry leaders in Rio Grande do Sul, Parana and Mato Grosso state, the largest producing regions, say the transgenic seeds will take 67.4% of the Brazilian soybean area in the 2009/2010 crop. Already the Bt corn, technology that controls Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), occupies 39.5% of the area.

Both Brazilian states, Mato Grosso and Parana, have 22.8 and 8.2 million hectares respectively (56.3 and 20.2 million acres) this summer. Roundup Ready soybean and Bt corn are the only two transgenic technologies available for commercial cultivation in Brazil. Until last year, most estimates indicated participation below 50% for transgenics, considering these two grains, which are the most important crops in the country.

With options more adapted to the various regions of the country and in its fourth edition, the Roundup Ready soybean (resistant to glyphosate) widens its participation and consolidates a turn around over the conventional soybean. The choice of RR is due to costs and weed handling, but also has to do with logistic, market and price, always depending on the region where it is planted. Brazil's corn farmers have adapted to Bt corn seed faster than the switch from conventional to transgenic soybean seed.

In the largest Brazilian state producer of soybean -- Mato Grosso, who has 6 million hectares planted with that culture (14.8 million acres) – Crop Expedition, a Brazilian crop tour, estimates the RR share in 55%. It is almost 10 points less than the coverage reported in Parana, the second in the ranking of soybeans. In Rio Grande do Sul, this rate reaches 95%.

Mato Grosso has an exclusive boarding to GM seeds facilitated by industries who want to engage the European market. Ademir Rostirolla, from Campos de Julio town, takes part of this group and plants only conventional seeds. "GM seeds have to be sent to ports farther away", he said. The distance of 800 kilometers would be enlarged to 2.5 thousand kilometers.

The discussion about logistics and costs is weaker in Rio Grande do Sul. Gelson Melo de Lima, director of production in Cotrijal cooperative, explains that the crops are too susceptible to climate and has much problems with weeds. In that case, GM is not an option but a necessity, he said.

Giovani Ferreira and Jose Rocher are agricultural journalists with the nationwide newspaper, Gazeta Do Povo, in Brazil.

2009/10 is only the second season Brazil is using Bt corn, but 39.5% its planted area is already covered with GM seeds. In a year, Bt biotechnology adoption grew seven times in the country.

In Parana state, which accounts for 35% of the Brazilian annual corn production, GM acreage is eight times bigger than a year ago. Around 41% of the states corn area is planted with Bt corn. Brazil has this summer 7.9 million acres of GM corn, 1.02 million acres in Parana. The country planted a total of 20.2 million acres of corn in 2009/10, 2.5 million acres in Parana. The projections are from the RPC Crop Expedition.

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