Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.
While the vast majority of soybeans produced in Brazil are GMO varieties, there remains a niche market for conventional soybeans (non-GMO) in the European and Asian markets. Of the three major soybean producing countries, Brazil, United States, and Argentina, Brazil has the largest capability of producing conventional soybeans. There is even an organization in Brazil solely dedicated to the promotion of conventional soybean production.
Nearly all the conventional soybeans in Brazil are produced in western Mato Grosso because the soybeans produced in western Mato Grosso are exported out of the Port of Porto Velho located on the Madeira River, which is a western tributary to the Amazon River. At that port there are facilities dedicated to only conventional soybeans, which is required to prevent contamination with GMO soybeans.
Researchers from Embrapa, which is Brazil's agricultural research service, reported that there has been increased interest in conventional soybeans in recent years. They anticipate that the acreage of conventional soybeans in Brazil will increase 2-4% in 2018/19. Conventional soybeans command a premium as a way to offset the cost of keeping the identity preserved and avoiding contamination.
Conventional soybeans are also an excellent way to combat weeds that have become resistant to Roundup herbicide and insects that have become resistant to the Bt gene found in Intacta soybeans.
Weed and insect control in conventional soybeans may be more expensive, but those expenses are more than made up for by the premiums offered for conventional soybeans and the fact that farmers do not have to pay a royalty for the use of conventional soybeans.
Researchers at Embrapa have been concerned for years about the lack of crop rotations in Brazil and the fact that some farmers use the same variety of GMO soybeans year after year. This practice can lead to more weeds becoming resistant to Roundup, insects becoming resistant to insecticides, and an increase in nematode populations.
There has been two milestones in Brazilian soybean production. Prior to 2003, all the soybeans in Brazil were conventional varieties. In 2005, GMO soybean production was approved in Brazil and Brazilian farmers quickly adapted the new technology.
The second milestone occurred in 2013 with the release of Intacta soybeans which contain the Bt gene that makes the plant mostly resistant to insect attacks. The Bt gene creates a toxin that kills insects if they eat soybean leaves. As with any technology though, there are insects that have now developed resistance to the Bt gene.
Farmers who produce conventional soybeans must take precautions to thoroughly clean their planters, combines, storage facilities, and trucks to avoid contamination with GMO soybeans. Embrapa has been the driving force in Brazil behind the development f high yielding conventional soybeans. Since the seed companies are focused on developing technologies for which they can charge a royalty, it has been left to the public sector to continue conduction research on conventional soybeans.
To meet the increased demand for conventional soybeans, Embrapa in the state of Minas Gerais will release a new conventional soybean variety onto the market in 2019. The new variety is 110 day maturity, indeterminate in growth, and it has a yield potential that could surpass 100 sacks per hectare (89 bu/ac).