Reuters
Non-GM seed demand strong in Brazil No.1 soy state
Wednesday February 12, 10:07 am ET
By Peter Blackburn

CAMPO VERDE, Brazil, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Soybean seed output is expected to rise just over 50 percent to 240,000 40-kg bags in 2002/03 (Oct/Sept) at the Agro-Sol seed farm in southern Mato Grosso, as demand for conventional seed grows strongly in Brazil's No.1 soy state.

In contrast to the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where a large part of the crop is illegally planted with transgenic seed smuggled in from neighboring Argentina, the Mato Grosso crop still consists of conventional varieties, agronomists said.

Genetically modified Argentine soybeans are unsuitable for the more tropical climate in Mato Grosso, but they are popular with southern farmers because they require less herbicide protection and are cheaper to produce than conventional beans.

"Consumers want conventional beans but won't pay extra for them even though they are more expensive to grow. It's unfair for farmers," Agro Sol President Guidone Romeu Dallastra said in an interview during a crop tour.

Despite strong farmer pressure to legalize transgenic crops, notably soybeans genetically spliced to resist Monsanto Co.'s (NYSE:MON - News) Roundup herbicide, the new leftist government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is in no hurry to take such a controversial step.

Family-run Agro Sol, which describes itself as a medium-sized seed producer, will harvest its 4,500 hectares (11,120 acres) of soybeans in March.

GREEN CARPET

The knee- to thigh-high crop is now flowering or pod-filling with no weeds in sight -- a carpet of various shades of green, depending on the variety planted, stretching to the horizon.

Blazing sunshine interrupted by short, sharp afternoon summer showers provide excellent growing conditions for the crop.

Campo Verde, located at 730 meters (2,370 feet) above sea level, enjoys a stable microclimate featuring around 2,000 millimeters (80 inches) of rain, mostly falling between October and March, and an average temperature of around 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit).

Dallastra migrated to Mato Grosso from Rio Grande do Sul 20 years ago and was one of the first to plant soybeans in the Campo Verde area, but seed production only started in 2000.

Since it was licensed by Monsanto and the government's crop research agency Embrapa, Agro Sol's soy plantings have risen rapidly and are planned to rise a further 44 percent next year to 6,500 ha.

Soy harvesting will not start until March because the seed crop is planted later than commodity soybeans. That way, it can be harvested when the weather is drier.

Agro Sol has just completed a $1.7 million extension of its seed processing plant and construction of warehouses to store 450,000 40-kg bags of seed.

The electronically controlled plant uses gas driers to reduce the seed moisture content to 11 percent from about 16 percent.

"Environmentally it's better than burning wood and it's also more efficient," Dallastra said, adding that the temperature is controlled within a plus or minus 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 F) which ensures that the seeds are uniformly dried without any genetic damage.

The seeds are then automatically sorted by size, shape and weight.