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:: THE AGRONOMIST DAY AND THE CERRADO
Fernando Penteado Cardoso - Senior Agronomist, founder and former Chairman of Manah SA, President of Agrisus Foundation.
Until the 50s, studies on the cerrados [Brazil poor soil savannas] were limited to botanical assessment and a few experiments in Sete Lagoas, state of Minas Gerais, which showed the extreme calcium deficiency and a response to phosphorus, which increased yields but at levels far below those from virgin fertile tall vegetation land.

Feuer, from Cornell University, working for a consulting company hired by agronomist Bernardo Sayão to evaluate the soils of the region of the new capital, Brasilia, studied the geological and pedological aspects of the poor soils of Central Brazil, and predicted its utilization in agriculture. A copy of his report, in the form of a thesis, was donated to the library of the ESALQ- SP University in Piracicaba, state of São Paulo.

However, it was the IRI team, of the Rockefeller organization, in Matão, state of São Paulo that proved for the first time that such soils could produce high yields. They were studying the recovery of depleted lands in decaying coffee plantations, originally a very fertile tall forest soil, but found it difficult to repeat the former yields. Either because of his relationship with Feuer or his scientific creativity, the researcher Colin McClung, duly backed by IRI’s Director Jerome Harrington, initiated in 1955 a series of experiments in pots with poor cerrado soils, treating them with N, K, P, Ca, Mg, S, and microelements using the “all but one” method.

The responses were so encouraging that they originated a series of validation tests on a semicommercial scale at farms located in, Anápolis/GO, São Joaquim de Barra/SP, Orlândia/SP and Pirassununga/SP, using maize, soybean and cotton as indicators. This stage was carried out in close connection with the IAC – Instituto Agronômico de Campinas, which in turn was studying coffee crops on cerrado land in the area of Batatais/SP. The results published in 1957 and 1960 were undoubtedly the first evidence that cerrado soils could be converted into high yielding farmland.

Then a period of extensive opening of the cerrados followed, seeded to rain fed rice properly fertilized with phosphorus-P. It was an itinerant crop that was replaced by B. decumbens pasture when the land became weedy. This was the beginning of the new stage of beef cattle raising based on the Brachiaria–Nelore duo.

In the 70s the Gauchos [farmers from the South] came in search of inexpensive land on which to plant soybeans. They had already some experience with poor soils of native grasslands properly limed. Spreading out from the states of Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul, they invaded Mato Grosso do Sul and the Midwest, making the country the great agricultural power it is today. This unquestionable success is also due to the "Cristalina" soybean variety, which showed good results on the cerrados and was bred by the dedicated agronomist Francisco Teresawa in Ponta Grossa/PR, as well as to PROCER and similar programs sponsored by another agronomist, Állison Paulinelli, then the young and dynamic Minister of Agriculture under President Geisel.

A few years ago, the renowned Norman Borlaug suggested that I nominated candidates for the World Food Prize, a kind of “Nobel Prize of Agriculture” (which does not exist), to acknowledge the “cerrado/soybean/no till” phenomenon, which he considered the greatest agricultural event of the 20th century. After some consulting, three candidates were nominated to share the World Food Prize: McClung, Teresawa and Paulinelli. Unfortunately, due to regulations, the honor went to third parties, without diminishing the merit of these three technicians who should be remembered on the Agronomist Day recently celebrated on October 12.

This merit was acknowledged by the Associação do Plantio Direto no Cerrado – APDC [No Till on Cerrado Association] which awarded McClung and Harrington the “Pioneers of the Cerrado” prize during the V Encontro Nacional do Plantio Direto na Palha [5th National Meeting on No Till over Residues), held in Goiânia/GO in June of 1996.

The 15 million hectares of originally poor soils covered by cerrado and native grassland that were transformed in fertile farming land are indelibly related to the agricultural research of Colin and Francisco, to the economical vision of Állison and to the entrepreneurial determination of the Gauchos.

We offer our token of esteem and acknowledgement to these three agronomists, genuine representatives of the class, as well as to all farmers of the cerrado.
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