Reuters
Brazil seen short of GM soy seed for 2-3 years
Monday September 29
By Reese Ewing and Inae Rivera

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Brazilian seed producers say it would take two to three years to get enough genetically modified soy seed to meet local demand -- but only if GM seed sales were legalized immediately.

Although Brazil last week authorized the planting of GM soy until the end of the year and the sale of GM soy crops until end-2004, the government has not given the green light to sell or import GM soy seed in Brazil. Farmers can only plant the previously illegal GM seed stocks now in their hands.

"It would still be two to three years before we can go to the producer with any significant volume of GM seeds," said Caio Vidor, director general of Embrapa Soja, the government's crop research company, in Parana state.

Embrapa, a major developer of seeds for private producers in Brazil, has teamed up with St. Louis, Missouri-based GM seed giant Monsanto Co.(NYSE:MON - News) to adapt RoundupReady genes to Brazil's vast 19-million-hectare (47-million-acre) soy belt.

Vidor said Embrapa has crossbred the RR gene that makes a soy plant resistant to glyphosate herbicide into 30 odd conventional soy varieties that have proven successful from Brazil's southern subtropics to its northern equatorial farms.

Under the partnership, the two companies would each receive a portion of the royalties for sales of the GM seeds, should the commercial sale of GM seed eventually be legalized.

For many years, soy producers in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul and Parana have ignored Brazil's ban on GM crops and planted black market GM soy, mostly RR, smuggled in from Argentina, where GM soybeans are widely planted.

GM SEED STOCKS FOR 1,600 HA

So far, GM seed production has been restricted and the seed sector estimates there may be GM seed stocks sufficient to plant 1,500 to 1,600 hectares in the laboratories of the top developers in Brazil -- Embrapa, Coodetec, Monsoy and others.

About 30 hectares of soy seed can be harvested from each hectare planted with seed material each year, according to data from the Agriculture Ministry.

"Since we have an 18-million-hectare (2002/03) soy crop, we wouldn't have enough for everybody," said Dorival Vicente, researcher for the Central Farming Cooperative for Economic and Technological Development (Coodetec).

Coodetec, a research firm funded by 34 cooperatives, also has a partnership with Monsanto which has resulted in three varieties of RR soy suitable for Brazil's growing regions. All three varieties are under consideration for approval at the Agriculture Ministry, according to Vicente.

Although Argentine RR soy can be planted in Brazil's southern latitudes with little loss in yield, the Argentine seed strains do not grow well under the different light cycles in the soy-rich center-west or near the equator.

According to a technician at the Agriculture Ministry, Coodetec has the biggest stock of GM soy seed with enough to plant over 1,000 hectares. Next comes Embrapa with about 300 ha, then Monsanto's Monsoy with 100 ha, Pioneer with 100 ha, Fundacao Mato Grosso with 25 ha and Syngenta with 20 ha.

Monsanto has tried unsuccessfully to collect royalties from Brazilian growers planting illicit GM soy. It is still unclear whether it will be able to collect under the current temporary decree legalizing GM soy planting and sales for growers, as certified GM seed sales are still not allowed.

The government said it hopes soon to submit to Congress a draft bill regulating all aspects of GM foods in Brazil to replace the current decree.