A soybean powerhouse, Brazil is also a growing force in corn, as demonstrated last year when it increased corn production by 31% to almost 2.9 billion bushels. With that record crop, Brazil’s exports also jumped. Now the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service expects Brazilian farmers to set another planting record for both corn and soybeans this year.
“High prices do encourage people to plant more corn,” says Jerry Norton, a chair of the World Agricultural Outlook Board’s Interagency Commodity Estimates committees. “We expect to see continued expansion this year, especially in Brazil.”
So how big can Brazil be in corn?
Much of the answer lies in the Cerrado, a region of grasses and scrub suited to corn production. Brazil’s corn acres have been farther south in Mato Grosso and Parana, where corn is either a second-season crop or the preferred rotational choice after soybeans. Last year’s record corn plantings involved just 25 million of the Cerrado’s 500 million acres.
“Brazil is the one country in the world with the greatest amount of arable land that could be brought into production,” says Jay O’Neil, senior agricultural economist at Kansas State’s International Grains program.
The top 10 U.S. corn-producing states combined are still smaller in size than the Cerrado, he says.
“Cerrado means closed or inaccessible. It’s a big open area with limited roads or rail and a northern river system that is not yet fully developed,” O’Neil says. “Brazil’s problem is making the land accessible, but price will motivate many things. If world prices stay high, expansion will take place.”