Sept. 26 was a big day — no, a huge day — for Brazilian farmers. That's when farmers in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul made their first legal planting of biotech soybeans (Roundup Ready). Until that date, planting biotech beans had been outlawed in Brazil.
Sure, nearly every farmer in the U.S. knows that Brazil has been bootlegging Roundup Ready seed from Argentina for several years. Last year, in fact, the American Soybean Association (ASA) predicted that 70-90% of the soybeans planted in southern Brazil, and 30-40% throughout the country, had been illegal biotech-enhanced varieties.
But now, the playing field is becoming more level.
What changed it all was “acting” President Jose Alencar's signing of a decree authorizing the planting of biotech soybeans in all of Brazil for the 2003-2004 growing season. At the time, President Lula was traveling abroad.
It appears that the decree also allows for sales of the biotech crops until Dec. 31, 2004. Farmers planting and commercializing biotech seed between now and Dec. 31, 2004, will have to sign documents pledging to not buy seeds of untraced origin in the future.
With news like this, Monsanto is probably planning on a big party. Finally, after lengthy arguments, Brazilian farmers will be legally bound to pay tech fees that amount to about $7-9/bag of seed. Until this time, ASA estimates that Brazilians were getting a $9.30-15.50/acre advantage from using bin-run biotech beans because U.S. farmers have been paying the tech fees.
For starters, the new decree allows farmers to plant the illegal seed they now have on hand. And, it would allow the Brazilian Agriculture Minister to extend the cutoff date for commercializing biotech seeds in Brazil under the condition that farmers can demonstrate the origins of those soybeans.
ASA President Ron Heck questions the move. “I'd like to know how their farmers are going to prove the origin of the soybeans when the seeds they're planting were obtained illegally.
“It is a step ahead,” Heck says, “but there's still no guarantee the decree will be enforced.”
While the decree allows the use of biotech soybeans across the nation, it includes restrictions effectively limiting planting to Rio Grande do Sul. It also allows only farmers already in possession of biotech seeds to plant, and prohibits their sale to farmers in other states.
Any farmer who plants the biotech seed must also sign a government agreement taking financial responsibility for any environmental damage that results from planting it.
Now, doesn't this all sound unbelievably bureaucratic? Others must agree, because already at press time, the decree is under fire from three sides. The Brazilian attorney general says there must be proof that planting biotech soybeans won't cause any environmental damage. The National Farm Workers Confederation and the Green Party have now logged the same appeal in the Supreme Court.
So, like many major government changes that affect agriculture, the dust needs to settle on how this new decree will actually work.
Hopefully, it will indeed cause the Brazilians to become more forthright about what they're planting. And, it will force them to pay technology fees — just like you.
“We're only a hurricane away” still rings in my ears after our September story on the deadly soybean disease Asian Rust. Since then, we've seen tons of stories and references to this foliar disease that's decimated fields in countries like Brazil and Argentina. It's now likely headed to the U.S. So, we've set up a special link on CornAndSoybeanDigest.com to provide you all the latest information to help you stay abreast of what's new with this disease. Watch future pages in this magazine, too, for additional coverage.