|Questions to be asked:
1 - Environmental effects when the Cerrado and Amazon are converted into soybean, other crops or beef production?
“Cerrado” is the general name to several types of vegetation that grow on originally dystrophic low fertility soils that are unproductive unless reclaimed. It varies from open grassland to light bushy cover with several intermediate stages. The “cerrado” can be economically cleared (no heavy trunks and stumps) and planted to acid tolerant rice, followed by soy and maize, after Al toxicity is neutralized by liming.
“Forest” is located on soils that are more fertile. It is never cleared for soy planting since removing trunks and stumps is very costly. Grass is sown among heavy plant parts since pastures are adapted to these conditions. Beef cattle is the only economical use for cleared dense forestland in the first 15/20 years. After this period, land adaptation for soy is feasible once stumps and trunks have decayed and can easily be piled up and burnt.
Removal of both types of vegetation, -in order to make photosynthesis possible,- does not change the rainfall and temperature system. Malaria mosquitoes (anopheles) disappear and overall health is improved. Natural springs and brooks show an increased flow since evaporation from grass or soy is much lesser than from the tree canopy.
There are no environment effects detrimental to men. The new cities present a high Human Development Index-IDH, quite often superior to the capital itself (Sorriso/MT > 0.8).
2 - Can modified production systems make the production more environmentally friendly?
Liming and fertilizing poor acid soils improve its fertility. A rich farming land is environmentally friendly since it promotes food production as well as cash crops. Most of the reclaimed land is farmed after conservation practices, - like no till, - and fertility levels are on the way up. Humus content increases beyond forest levels which means a long lasting carbon sink.
3 - Intense production on small areas or extensive production on large areas?
Medium to large mechanized operations are predominant in the soy area on “cerrado” flat land in which sound soil conservation methods like no till are adopted. On more fertile hilly land soil, that initially requires no fertilizer, there are small farms generally stagnant or decadent unless specialized truck crops are produced.
On the other hand, there are thousands of itinerant small farmers adopting a bush fallow system, moving on and felling a new area as soon as the land gets weedy that requires hours long hoeing. The land left behind turns to secondary growth forest or is sowed to grass (Brachiaria spp) so that its value is increased in case of sale. This system has been going on for centuries.
4 - Possibilities to reduce use of pesticides in soybean production?
Farmers apply the least possible pesticides for economical reasons: they are quite expensive. If GM RR varieties are available, the application of weedkiller is cut to half or less and the used product glyphosate is less toxic and self-degrading. Spraying increased after soy rust started, specially in rainy periods when the product is often washed down. Resistant varieties, GM or not, present the possibility of cutting down such expenditures. Modern farmers are very keen about this issue.
5 - "Genetic pollution" by GMO soybean?
GMO varieties are not generally used after ongoing regulations. Farmers feel there are no bad consequences of GM since there are millions of hectares sowed to RR and BT GMO cultivars throughout the world. They feel that worldwide competition justify the use of the same cost cutting proceedings which are adopted by international fight for markets.
6 - Degree of soil degradation in soybean growing and ways to reduce it?
There is no soil degradation in soy bean growing. On the contrary, adding to the soil scarce nutrients and practicing a conservation agriculture actually increases fertility due to plant residues and humus content. Quite often the humus content goes above the percentage of the original forest soil and certainly above the original cerrado content. It means a net carbon sink.
7 - Plant rotations where soybean is grown?
It all depends on economics and on climate conditions. South of the tropic line and west of 50 degrees W, double cropping is an usual practice: wheat in the southern area and maize/sorghum up north. When economics are not attractive or when operations get late, farmers sow oats in the south and millets (Pennisetum americanum) up north as a conservation cover crop. In the northeast soy bean areas the rain period is too short for double cropping.
The alternative of summer rotation replacing soy is usually done with maize, which leave back enough residues for the next no till soy. Sometimes maize is consorciated with grass (Brachiaria spp) for after harvest cattle grazing in the following dry winter season. Whenever the land is not too weedy and the porosity is fair, summer upland rainfed rice is planted with varieties that compete in commercial quality with paddy rice harvested in the southern region.
After the bio-diesel new perspective, sunflower, castor oil beans and “wild kernel”(Jatropha curcas) may, in the long run, offer a new alternative to soy in summertime.
8 - Combination of soybean and animal production on the same farm or in the same region?
A new technique of sowing grass into soy plants at flowering time is under test. Coating the grass small seeds with fungicide, minor elements and an inert product improves the chances of a good grass stand whenever rains stop after germination. Grazing starts about 30 days after harvest and keeps on until around 40 days before soy sowing. This period is necessary for grass to re-grow producing, as a result, residues for the next no till summer period. The possibility is fantastic although it is not yet practiced in large scale.
An area of winter pasture is sometimes left back for summer grazing rotation when rains favor grass growth. A summer rotation of 1 year pasture and 2 years soy will provide 1/3 of the area for summer grazing and 3/3 for winter. All together it can be expected in three hectares 6 t soy and 0.6 t live weight of beef cattle per year. Very good farmers have produced 7t soy and 1t live weight per year in 3 ha in the mid south region. This happens after applying 200 kg N top dressed on summer rotated pasture, provided frosts do not occur and rains are normal.
9 - Possibilities to use the Cerrado and Amazon for timber production and/or as a carbon sink
Eucalyptus is successfully planted at the Amazon river left bank close to its mouth. The species is widely planted at the cerrado area, millions by the way, for cellulose purpose. A new species, “teca” (Tectona grandis) of Asian origin, is quite successful at the western Amazon non flooded fertile forest soil. Native species, like mahogany, have been tried without good results. If planted forest mean a carbon sink it surely is much less than the C absorption by increased humus soil content.
10 - Environmental and economic value of ecosystem services in the Cerrado and Amazon?
No ecosystem service is available besides Government research and extension. Many specialized private consultancy offices offer their advisory services on forestry, general farming, cattle raising and no till system soil conservation.
11 - Does anyone pay for ecosystem services now? If so, how much per ha?
No paying system exists. Land taxation is usually low.
12 - Beef production in Brazil is increasing rapidly but has stagnated and even decreased in Costa Rica after a large-scale transformation of forest to pasture 1960-1980. May the same happen in the Brazil in the future? If not, why the difference?
Beef cattle development during the last 10 years is a consequence of 3 main factors: 1- new grazing areas on cleared forest has increased; 2-better technology in old pastures (renewing, fertilizing, supplementation of N plus minor elements) has been developed; 3- increased number of grain fed lots has developed. If costs or regulations curb additional forest clearing for grass sowing, the adoption of grass double cropping after soy will compensate the expected decrease in carrying capacity of existing pastures in far off regions. It seems that the scenario of near future is of increased beef production unless domestic prices are too low.
Apparently, Costa Rica cattle raising was based on only one factor: new pastures on rich volcanic soil, which turned depleted after weathering and erosion. Brazil beef production cannot be compared to any Central America small, hilly, volcanic, cloudy (short sunlight) and very rainy cerrado.
13 - How much of the Cerrado is legally protected?
Part of the 8 National Parks plus several State Parks and Ecological Stations cover about 6.5% of the cerrado area and are located at the Amazon basin. The most outstanding are the Emas National Park, the Veadeiros Tableland National Park and the Amazon Prairie National Park along the Roosevelt River (former River of Doubt explored by US President Theodore Roosevelt back in 1914).
14 - May land owners use all their land for production or do they have to preserve some of the natural vegetation?
According to the law, 25% of light vegetation cerrado, 50% if the vegetation is denser and 80% of forests must be preserved as such . Furthermore, river, brook and lake banks are protected by law. Farmers voluntarily usually do not fell the vegetation of steep slopes and of stony hills. Substantial areas of the original cerrado prairie are kept as grazing land, mainly if subject to flooding.