Zhejiang University: Story behind grain boom in Brazil

Recently, Professor LIN Tao and Qiushi Distinguished Professor YING Yibin at the Zhejiang University College of Biosystems Engineering and Food Science engaged in collaborative research with other scholars from the United States, Brazil and China. Their findings were published in a cover article entitled “Double cropping and cropland expansion boost grain production in Brazil” in the journal Nature Food. This study reveals two major strategies for grain boom in Brazil—double cropping and cropland expansion, among which double cropping plays an increasingly prominent role and has the potential to ensure the sustainable development of agriculture and food security in Brazil and other pan-tropical countries.

Brazil is the largest soybean exporter and the second largest corn exporter in the world. In 2019, Brazil’s total exports to China, including soybeans, corn and soybean meal, added up to 57.6 billion dollars. The stable production and supply of Brazil’s staple grain is of immense importance to the sound development of China’s livestock industry.

In 2016, Brazil produced 96 million tons (Mt) of soybean and 64 Mt of corn, which is more than fourfold the country’s production level in 1980. Researchers quantified the contributions of double cropping and cropland expansion to corn and soybean production in Brazil using municipality-level data from 1980 to 2016. At the national level, cropland expansion remained to be the major strategy for the increase in crop production. Even though its contribution was on the decline, it was still responsible for 65% of the total increase in 2016. The contribution of double cropping to the grain boom, however, increased to 35% gradually. The contributions of double cropping and cropland expansion to grain boost were spatiotemporally explicit. While double cropping dominated the conventional agricultural regions, cropland expansion was still the major strategy in agricultural frontiers such as the Centre-West and Matopiba.

Cropping frequency of soybean and corn systems in the key agricultural regions of Brazil

This study also found that the cropping frequency of the soybean and corn system in Brazil increased to 1.25 in 2016 and double cropping offset the equivalent of 76.7 Mha of arable land for corn production from 2003 to 2016. These findings open up a new avenue to improving crop production in existing arable land and thus offers guidance on how to ensure grain security and alleviate land burden globally.

“We found that the rising global demand for soybeans and corn was the strongest driving force for double cropping development in Brazil, which enlightens us to rethink the interactions between globalization, technological development, and agricultural intensification,” said LIN Tao. “Breeding and mechanization are making double cropping practical in more regions in Brazil, and successful Brazilian experiences in double cropping could be valuable for other pantropical countries involved in global grain production.”