New threat to Brazil's breadbasket: a pesky caterpillar
It is a completely new approach, according to Rangel. "The helicoverpa changed everything about phytosanitary policy in Brazil," he said.
"The solution for helicoverpa is to bring in products to control the helicoverpa - immediately," said Bombarda, an agronomist from southern Brazil who was lured by the potential to work with irrigation in western Bahia's frontier and employs full-time bug monitors on his farm.
The Bahia state government announced that Emamectin Benzoate, a substance manufactured by Swiss crop chemical maker Syngenta, would be available in March 2013, shortly after Embrapa identified the new caterpillar.
Yet a year later, farmers still do not have access to it.
"It turned into an unprecedented bureaucracy ... the government created a bunch of rules and obstacles," said Celito Breda, a cotton consultant in Bahia who has traveled across Brazil to discuss helicoverpa armigera and believes Emamectin Benzoate would provide the most efficient control.
Syngenta said the company awaited decisions from federal and state governments on regulations and permits needed to import the product, which is sold all over the world, including the United States and parts of Latin America.
Rangel said bureaucratic hurdles had been worked out and Emamectin Benzoate would be available with special approval on an emergency basis. He defended the government's caution, saying that as a top commodities exporter, Brazil must be careful about what pesticides are used to avoid retaliation from buyers.
President Dilma Rousseff's government has authorized 36 other chemical and biological products to combat helicoverpa armigera, Rangel said.
Syngenta's Loss, Monsanto's Gain?
Two weeks from harvest, Bombarda's soybean crop looks healthy. He applied pesticides 10 times, including five coats of Belt, a product he had never used before, made by Germany's Bayer AG.
Syngenta has so far lost out on what would have been a lucrative opportunity to sell Emamectin Benzoate in Brazil. But Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, had better luck.
Over the past 11 years, Monsanto developed a caterpillar-resistant soybean strain specifically for South America, with an eye on Brazil's growing pesticide reliance.
"Today there is basically 12 months of continuous planting and you don't break the pest cycle," said Renato Carvalho, an insect control specialist at Monsanto in Sao Paulo. "Over the years pressure increases, the pests become resistant to the insecticides and increase in population."
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