As Heat Scorches Fields, Brazil's Soy Yields Prove Resilient

Brazil ( MGN Image )

(Bloomberg) -- Fields across Brazil’s Mato Grosso, the nation’s largest soybean state, have been plagued by dryness and scorching heat this season. That’s normally a recipe for disastrous yields. But thanks to better crop technology, farmers could still end up with a record harvest.

Take the case of Alexandre Di Domenico, who grows soybeans on about 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) in the northeastern part of Mato Grosso. He’s seeing evidence that his yields will jump about 10 percent this year to an average 3,600 kilograms per hectare (53.5 bushels an acre). That’s even after his fields faced 20 days with almost no rain between December and January.

"We’re in a different place than a few years ago," Domenico said in an interview during a farmers’ meeting in Querencia municipality. The increased use of calcium additives has boosted crop potential in the area, he said. "Farmers have come from a series of good years and invested a lot in improving the soil."

Global crop yields have soared in recent years thanks to advances in seed technology, pesticides, herbicides and other inputs. Booming world harvests have helped to keep food inflation relatively tame even as climate change has brought increased risks from drought, heat and storms. In Brazil, bountiful harvests in recent seasons have also helped boost farmer profits, allowing them to invest more in their fields.

Itamar Dagnese, who grows soybeans on about 2,300 hectares in Canarana, is harvesting an average 3,900 kilograms per hectare this year. While that’s 15 percent more than the nation’s highest-ever average, achieved last year, Dagnese isn’t completely happy.

"We could be getting 4,200 kilograms if it wasn’t for the drought," Dagnese said. "We are getting more productive, but costs are also rising."

Still, the bad weather could hurt some fields more than others, especially in cases where farmers planted crops with shorter growing cycles. Average yields in the state may be less than 2 percent lower than last year’s, according to Andre Debastiani, an analyst at Agroconsult.

Debastiani, along with other analysts and agronomists, trekked across fields in the eastern part of the state last week on a crop tour to measure yield potential. While he predicts yields will fall slightly, that should be more than offset by an increase in the planted area, he said, forecasting production at 33 million metric tons, up from 32.3 million last year.

"Farmers have invested in their fields, and the soils are showing a growing resilience to stressful conditions,” Debastiani said during the crop tour. Even as crops in Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul states were more severely hit by the heat, the nation’s output could still be about 115 million tons, the second-largest on record, he said.

"Despite the problems, this is still going to be a big crop."


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