Brazil farmers plant more soy in savanna but destroy less virgin land -Abiove data

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian farmers continue to plant more soy in Brazil’s Cerrado savanna region but are cutting fewer trees to do so to avoid the costly investment, according to oilseeds crusher group Abiove which released its data on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Workers prepare to harvest soy on a farm in Gilbues, Piaui State, Brazil March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Roberto Samora

Large-scale farming in the Cerrado, which includes vast forested areas although it is classified as a savanna, has turned Brazil into an agricultural powerhouse, while attracting criticism for destroying roughly half of the biome’s native vegetation.

Commercial farming has grown at breakneck speed in the region, as the soy area almost tripled in 20 years.

The Cerrado currently represents 52% of Brazil’s entire soy area, as plantings rose about 6% to 20 million hectares (49.4 million acres) in the 2020/2021 season from the previous cycle, Abiove data show.

Abiove said on Tuesday an analysis of soy farm expansion cross-referenced with government deforestation data in the Cerrado revealed that growers are using areas already opened for agriculture or cattle raising.

Between 2001 and 2007, 13% of the soy area expansion in the Cerrado was over native vegetation compared with 3% between 2014 and 2021, the Abiove data showed.

“For economic reasons, farmers are not expanding into areas with native vegetation,” Bernardo Pires, an Abiove official, told reporters. He explained that converting virgin land to farming demands big investments, including costs for adjusting soil nutrients, and this can be a deterrent to growing soybeans there.

Some 990 towns in the Cerrado cultivate soybeans currently, an area representing 9.8% of the biome.

Much of the cleared area in the Cerrado is dedicated to cattle ranching rather than farming.

In the Matopiba region specifically, a group of northeastern states considered the world’s “last agricultural frontier,” expansion of soy areas on native land fell from 40% between 2001 and 2007 to 10% between 2014 and 2021, Abiove said.

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by David Gregorio