Jan. 22, 2018
Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.
Even though the vast majority of soybeans grown in Brazil are GMO varieties, there continues to be a niche market for conventional soybeans, which are non-GMO. In fact, the Soybean and Corn Producers Association of Mato Grosso (Aprosoja) joined together with Embrapa last July to form a new organization called the Soybean Free Institute, whose goal is to promote the production and use of conventional soybeans (non-GMO).
There is also an international association that tracks and certifies the production of conventional soybeans called the International Association of Responsible Soybeans (RTRS).
According to the Soybean Free Institute, Brazil produced 5 million tons of conventional soybeans in 2016/17 on 2.2 million hectares compared to Brazil's total soybean production of 114 million tons in 2016/17 on 33.9 million hectares. Therefore, conventional soybeans accounted for approximately 4.3% of Brazil's soybean production.
The state of Mato Grosso is the largest producer of conventional soybeans in Brazil because the state offers some of the logistics needed to keep the conventional soybeans from being contaminated with GMO soybeans. Most of the conventional soybeans are produced in the western part of Mato Grosso and they are exported out of the port at Porto Velho in the neighboring state of Rondonia. At that port there are exporters that only handle conventional soybeans, thus making it easier to keep their identity preserved.
Many farmers do not like to produce conventional soybeans because of the requirement that they cannot be contaminated with GMO varieties. That requires extra effort to keep combines, storage units, trucks, etc. completely free of GMO soybeans. Weed control in conventional soybeans also requires a higher level of management compared to GMO soybeans.
With GMO soybeans, a farmer can spray his field with Roundup herbicide virtually any time after the crop is planted. The problem with GMO soybeans is that weeds are developing resistance to Roundup. These resistant weeds can be controlled in conventional soybean fields, but it requires more herbicide management.
Another problem with conventional soybeans is the lack of interest on the part of the seed companies to develop new and improved varieties. This is where Embrapa comes in. In order to maintain a viable conventional soybean market in Brazil, Embrapa has taken on the responsibility of developing new conventional varieties and they are conducting research on conventional soybean production.
To compensate for the extra effort to produce conventional soybeans, buyers pay a premium for the conventional soybeans. The demand for conventional soybeans is small compared to soybeans in general, but it is expected to remain strong. The demand in Europe is estimated at 2.7 million tons and in China the demand is estimated at 5 million tons.
The International Association for Responsible Soybeans (RTRS) certified 4 million tons of conventional soybean production worldwide in 2017, which was up 900,000 tons compared to 2016. In Brazil, RTRS certified 900,000 hectares of conventional soybeans in 2017, which was up 30% from the 690,000 hectares certified in 2016.