World No. 2 soy grower Brazil has launched a program to produce more GMO-free seed as modified varieties marketed by multinational biotech firms are squeezing out the conventional type.
The program will focus on Brazil’s top soy state, Mato Grosso, and comes in response to growers’ increasing difficulty in finding sufficient conventional soy seed to supply a market offering them a premium for non-GMO produce.
“There is a market war in Mato Grosso where (biotech firms) are almost withdrawing their conventional seed, so that is why we are entering into this now,” said Alexandre Cattelan, head of the soy section of state agriculture researcher Embrapa.
About 65 per cent of Brazil’s 68-million-tonne crop to be grown this year will be the genetically modified kind, and most of that will come from seed incorporating technology developed by biotech firms Monsanto, the leader in Brazil, Bayer Cropscience and BASF.
The firms receive royalties from seed producers who use their patented technology
and farmers are concerned fast-declining supplies of conventional seed will soon leave them at the mercy of these corporations.
“In a few years we would be simply or totally in the hands of multinationals who today work with biotechnology,” said Blairo Maggi, major shareholder in family-owned soy producer Maggi and former governor of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s main soy state.
He said it was important Brazil remained able to supply a market that was paying a premium for produce certified as GMO free, and that conventional soy should not be crowded out by
GMO technology, despite the latter’s “important” role.
Embrapa, which launched the program at its headquarters in the capital Brasilia, will develop a range of conventional soy seeds to suit different growing conditions and raise production of these at its own facilities and through partner companies.
Its two partners in the program are Abrange, the national association of GMO-free grains producers and Aprosoja, Mato Grosso Soybean Producer’s Association.
Around 40 per cent of Mato Grosso’s soy is expected to be of the conventional, unmodified kind this year but foreign demand, particularly from European consumers could reverse its decline since the arrival of GMO seed in Brazil about five years ago.
“We believe we could reach 70 per cent (in Mato Grosso) versus 30 per cent GMO, depending on demand in Europe and Asia,” said Ivan Paghi, technical director at Abrange.
Mato Grosso turned out around 18.8 million tonnes of Brazil’s 68.7 million tonnes last season. Mato Grosso fields are less prone to weeds so growers gain less from GMO soy’s engineered resistance to herbicides like glyphosate.
The program is called “Soja livre” or “Soy Free” and its slogan “Cultivate your freedom to choose,” alludes to the dominance of GMO seed.
Some of Brazil’s largest grains producers, are partnering with the program, having committed to ensuring the premium paid for conventional soy is shared with the farmer.
Conventional soy tended to add on average a two reais ($1.18) premium to a typical price of around 43 reais ($25.29) per 60-kg bag for GMO soy in Mato Grosso, participants at the launch said.
Glauber Silveira da Silva, president of Aprosoja, said it would take three or four years before a significant rise in conventional soy output would be observed due to the time required to multiply the seeds.
He said the focus for conventional soy was Europe since Brazil’s biggest soy customer, China, preferred GMO grain which cost less.
“Inafewyearswewouldbesimplyor totallyinthehandsofmultinationals whotodayworkwithbiotechnology.”
– Blairo Maggi