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Brazil's researchers race to release Asian rust tolerant soybeans

Agriculture.com Staff 04/13/2006 @ 12:35pm

From February 8-18, 2006, Daryll Ray and Harwood Schaffer were a part of a research/study tour led by Robert Wisner, University Professor, Iowa State University. The nine person group studied the various factors that affect Brazilian agricultural production, processing, and marketing, with a focus on soybeans. This column is one in a series describing their trip.

We visited two of the major Brazilian research organizations set up to do fundamental soybean breeding. One is Embrapa. This is a publicly sponsored organization that we noted in an earlier column was largely responsible for developing low latitude soybean varieties that made soybean production possible in the northern parts of Brazil. Embrapa works closely with local foundations, seed testing organizations and seed companies. We visited Embrapa's Londrina facilities on Wednesday morning.

In the afternoon we visited the offices of TMG, another major research concern, to hear a presentation on their work. Some of the key scientists involved in TMG and FMG formerly worked for Embrapa but left it in a policy dispute. TMG is the private for-profit partner of the non-profit Mato Grosso Foundation (FMG) whose research fields we saw on Monday in Rondonopolis. FMG is an impressive and very active research organization. Having visited with researchers and administrators on both sides of the split we are still unclear as to exactly what the issues were as everyone referred to the split in vague terms.

What was clear in the presentation at TMG was their intention to be the premier soybean seed research facility in Brazil while reaching out to global seed markets. We were shown a number of slides that asserted that TMG's research capabilities were significantly greater than those of Embrapa and that they would have the first Asian Soybean Rust (ASR) tolerant soybean seed on the market. They have already released TMG 103, the first RoundUp-Ready root nematode resistant variety in Brazil. We were told that TMG intends to replace Embrapa as the major soybean breeder in Mato Grosso. Whether or not they achieve that goal, TMG clearly sees itself as a private, for-profit competitor to the public, not-for profit Embrapa.

Thursday, February 16, 2006, the eighth day we had been in Brazil, started out at 5:00 am as we checked out of the hotel and headed to the Londrina airport where we boarded a two leg flight that got us into Uberlandia, Minas Gerais state. There we were met by a van that took us to the Ma Shou Tao farm show about an hour and a half south of Uberlandia.

The scenery along the mostly four lane divided highway was spectacular, at least for a couple of guys whose idea of fun is to drive down the road comparing the growing conditions of corn and soybean fields. We saw a large number of what appeared to be date palms, just loaded down with fruit. The topography was more rolling than what we saw in Mato Grosso state, but the fields appeared to be just as large.

As we approached the Ma Shou Tao farm show, we could see a large spoked circle at a distance from us. The circle complete with tents, sawdust walkways, and demonstration stations is the focus of the farms show. The circle is perhaps a kilometer (0.6 mile) in diameter and is divided into sixteen sectors that serve as comparison plots for the different company's seed offerings.

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