Brazil to debut rust-resistant soy

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil is set to begin commercial planting of a soybean variety with a gene that makes it resistant to the devastating Asian rust fungus, which is beginning to develop tolerance to conventional fungicides.

Local growers could markedly reduce production costs if the new variety, which was developed by the Fundacao MT in Brazil’s No. 1 soybean state of Mato Grosso, proves effective.

The state and the whole center-west region, which puts out most of Brazil’s soybeans, have climatic conditions that are often ideal for the spread of Asian rust.

“We have noticed in recent years that due to the successive sprayings of fungicide on the soy, some important, principal chemical compounds are losing their efficiency,” said Dario Hiromoto, the director of Fundacao MT, a research foundation working on new varieties of soybeans and cotton.

In some areas of Mato Grosso, producers have had to spray four or sometimes five times a season to keep the fungus in check. If left untreated, Asian rust can wipe out up to 80 percent of a soy field’s output in a matter of weeks.

Producers have lost more than $10 billion over the eight-or-so years since the disease cropped up in Brazil, in both yield losses and increased production costs, Fundacao MT said.

The conventional commercial soybean variety, in which researchers have integrated a gene from a soybean strain from an international seed bank that shows resistance to rust fungus, has been under study for three years in Brazil.

The new rust-resistant variety has been given the name in Portuguese of Inox, which translates into English as Stainless Steel.

The foundation will begin its first commercial application in September-October when the new planting season begins in Brazil’s center-west.

Producers are expected to sow an estimated 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres). In the following season of 2010/11, producers are expected to expand the area planted with Inox strains on up to 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres).

Brazil is the world’s No. 2 soybean producer after the United States. China is the largest buyer of Brazilian soybeans.

The variety will not free the producer from fungicide applications all together but should reduce the need to spray repeatedly.

Currently, Fundacao MT estimates that producers have to spray fungicide in Mato Grosso on average 2.6 times a season. It expects Inox to reduce this number to 1.6 to 1.4 times a crop, Hiromoto said.

Fundacao MT has applied for a patent for Inox soy.

Reporting by Roberto Samora; writing by Reese Ewing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker