Brazil new soy frontier Matopiba contributing to record crop

BARREIRAS, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil’s newest soy frontier, the Matopiba region stretching across four northern states, is contributing to a record crop this year as good weather spurs a recovery in agricultural yields after several drought-hit seasons.

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Matopiba - a word formed by the initials of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia - has just started the soy harvest, later than the main soy regions in Brazil.

The region suffered heavy losses due to a dry spell last season when it produced 12.17 million tonnes of soy. The situation is different now.

“We are expecting to harvest the best crop ever for Bahia,” João Carlos Jacobsen, a pioneer in grains farming in North/Northeast Brazil, told Reuters after greeting members of a crop tour visiting his farm in Barreiras, Bahia.

Due in part to the good prospects in the area, tour organizer Agroconsult raised its projection for Brazil’s soy crop in 2016/17 to 111 million tonnes on Monday.

Matopiba is considered the area with the highest growth potential for cultivated land in Brazil. Producers from other regions have bought land here in recent years, looking to develop large-scale modern production systems similar to those in Mato Grosso.

Projections from Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry indicate planted area could grow from 4.16 million hectares currently to as much as 10.3 million hectares in 10 years. Output could top 30 million tonnes of grains by then.

But the expansion might take form at a slower pace, since production was not good last year or the season before that.

“If it weren’t for the drought, we would already be planting in the whole farm,” Fernando Fritzen, a soy producer holding 24,000 hectares in Gilbués, Piauí state, told Reuters.

He planted 19,000 hectares in the current crop.

“But we will resume investments in 2018, thank to this good crop we are harvesting,” he said.

Fritzen was born in a small town in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost Brazilian state, 3,000 km from his current home. He arrived in Piauí with his brothers in 2002. Besides the farm, they manage a grains transporting firm and a cattle raising business.

Farmers in the region still complain of lack of infrastructure, particularly good roads or rail lines to take the grains to exporting ports in the coast.

But despite complaints from environmentalists, who criticize the destruction of the local biome know as the Cerrado, they believe soy, corn and cotton fields will steadily grow in coming years.

Writing by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Leslie Adler