Most farmers in south central Brazil began planting soybeans last month. This will be the first crop of beans planted since last January's massive devaluation of the currency. Naturally, they're eyeing input prices as they decide what and how much to plant.

Typically, farmers in this region plant corn in the winter rather than double-cropping beans.

"Our growers will probably end up planting about the same area of soybeans as they did last year," says agronomist Ricardo Mendonia of the Carol cooperative, with members in the states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. "The profitability of sugarcane is a little worse right now than soybeans, so there may be a few hectares switched in some areas."

Ag engineer Jonadan Machoutao says costs of fuel and other inputs have risen most of the past year, due to a combination of a stronger dollar and a devalued Brazilian real.

"Labor costs, however, have stayed about the same due to high unemployment," he adds.

Machoutao grows 800 acres of soybeans, another 1,800 of soybean seed and 5,400 of sugarcane on two parcels of land near the south central Brazilian city of Uberaba. He also milks 250 cows.

Deciding how much soy to plant, he says, is more of "a technical decision" than a cost-of-production matter, since he follows specific rotation plans according to his crop mix. "We are going to plant about the same area of soybeans as we did last year," he says.

Now it's just a matter of waiting for the rains.

In an effort to help associated growers in their decision-making process, the Carol co-op has researched and published average costs for both conventional and no-till planting. In Brazil, the cost of transporting inputs from manufacturing centers to the field - and harvested beans from field to port - varies greatly depending on distance. The numbers in the( see printed table) reflect costs for a production area with good roads, relatively close to ports and manufacturing.