A research project conducted by University of Illinois agricultural economist Peter Goldsmith found that while tropical climates that allow for year-round farming may seem to be a tremendous economic advantage, for corn and soybean farmers in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso it also poses a problem: An abundance of grain followed by about a 10% postharvest loss, partially due to a lack of storage.
“There is a 34 percent undercapacity of soybean storage, and the situation is aggravated by the rapidly increasing production of second-crop maize,” Goldsmith said. “The worst situation occurs in northern Mato Grosso with a simulation of a full-maize second crop. The potential to succession crop is great and current levels of storage are low. There is clear evidence of a shortage of storage, particularly private and cooperative, as grain production rises in the state.”
Goldsmith’s research team was the first to employ Geographic Information System (GIS) software to map the coordinates of commercial, cooperative and private grain storage facilities in Mato Grosso. “We created GIS coordinates for every facility, mapped them, and then overlaid how much the production there currently is and how much production there would be if farmers were to produce and store a second corn crop on 100 percent of the bean crop, in order to find the areas that had the most congestion and the least congestion,” Goldsmith said.
According to Goldsmith, the information will help determine the best, most convenient locations for additional storage. “The state of Mato Grosso, where I’ve been working for the past dozen years, is the largest state producing soybeans in the world,” he said. “It produces 38 percent of Brazil’s soybeans and an increasingly greater percentage of corn. It’s also the number one state in Brazil for rice, cattle, and cotton. Over my years of involvement, I have seen it change from being an emergent agro-industrial complex state to a state that is now a global leader.”
The nature of non-stop, year-round farming in the tropics contributes to the loss. “Farmers have to harvest soybeans during the rainy season because if they wait until the end of the rainy season to plant corn, the corn won’t get pollinated due to the onset of the dry season,” he said. “There are also significant quality and direct-gain/loss issues due to harvesting at very high-moisture levels. And the urgency brought on by the seasonal timing makes harvesting go very fast. Speed is important because you’ve got to get the beans out to get the corn in. A farmer might sacrifice soybeans to get the corn planted. And the equipment is in constant demand and kept far from the farmstead so the combines and trucks don’t get maintained properly.”
According to Goldsmith, tropical regions of the globe will be producing more and more of the world’s food so helping farmers in developing countries such as Brazil to create more efficient harvesting, transporting, and storage is a step toward ensuring that there will be enough grain to feed and fuel the world.
“This is where the available ground is located,” Goldsmith said. “It’s been difficult to know how to farm it in the past. The low organic matter and highly acidic soils that are under significant pest pressure make it a difficult area to produce crops, but the Brazilians figured out how to do it and do it very well.”
Goldsmith sees Brazil as part of the global frontier of agricultural production systems. “Places like Mato Grosso are at the margin where the food gap can be closed,” he said. “In most temperate regions of the world, grain productivity is already high so increasing output to meet rising demand is more incremental. The big changes are happening in the low latitude regions of South America and Africa. As a scientifically relevant university, we need to understand the tremendous changes under way in the global agribusiness scene, which currently happens to be in western Brazil.”
“Mapping private, commercial, and cooperative storage in Mato Grosso” was funded by the Archer Daniels Midland Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois. The study was co-authored by João Antonio Vilela Medeiros and published in Portuguese in a 2013 issue of The Soybean Research Journal. Read it here (pdf).
Photo: Soybean harvest operations near Sinop, Mato Grosso; cc by Peter Goldsmith via Flickr