From 1980 to 2016, cereal production in Brazil more than quadrupled and the country is now the world’s largest soybean exporter and the second-largest corn exporter. The two main drivers of this increase in food production were the expansion of cropland and dual cropping, harvesting two crops, such as corn and soybeans, from the same field in a single year.
While the expansion of cultivated land has long been recognized as one of the drivers of increased agricultural production in Brazil, a new study published in Natural food quantifies for the first time the impact that the double harvest also had in helping Brazil achieve its national grain boom.
Jing Gao, assistant professor of geospatial data science at the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment (CEOE) and Data Science Institute (DSI) at the University of Delaware, was a co-author of the study which included collaborators from institutions in China and Brazil.
Gao contributed to the team’s efforts by reviewing data related to the Census of Agriculture collected from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) and identifying spatial patterns and changes over time in three key agricultural regions in terms of food production: the Center-West, South-East-South and Matopiba Regions in Brazil.
“You don’t know what’s going on until you analyze the data,” Gao said. “This was the first time that this unique data set had been analyzed from this perspective to show how the system worked. Understanding how the increase in cereal productivity in Brazil has been achieved in the recent past provides a better understanding of the development of sustainable food production in the future.
These three regions covered 36% of the Brazilian territory and accounted for 79% of the national soybean production and 85% of the country’s maize production in 2016. The Center-West zone recorded the strongest increases in production as well as expansion cultivated land. As such, the Center-West replaced the South-East-South as the country’s main grain producer, producing 46% of the country’s grains compared to 29% for the South-East-South.
The increase in cereal production in the Midwest can be attributed to the expansion of cultivated land as well as dual cropping.
The contributions of double cropping in the Center-West increased from 19% to 33% from 2003 to 2016. While the increase in soybean production was largely due to the expansion of cultivated land – the fields of Soybeans make up more than a third of Brazil’s cultivated land – the increase in maize production could be linked to the practice of double cropping. In the Central West, the agricultural area for second season maize – or maize grown after harvesting first season soybeans – increased from 26.3% to 66.6% from 2003 to 2016, and in 2012, the second season maize crop overtook maize grown in the first season as the main source of maize nationally.
Tao Lin, from the College of Biosystems Engineering and Food Science at Zhejiang University in China and corresponding author of the article, said it was interesting to see that agricultural developments in these regions had different approaches from the agricultural expansion and dual cultivation.
“The Central West region has seen a rapid expansion of cultivated land over the past decades, and after the creation of the new cultivated land, the farmers then decided to greatly increase the double cropping area as well,” said Lin. . “Meanwhile, the contribution of double cropping in the South-East-South region is over 50%, which has had a much larger impact than the expansion of cultivated land in recent times, as there is no plus a lot of arable land for further expansion in this commercial agricultural region. . “
The researchers also found that the main driver behind this rapid increase in grain production was the growing demand for Brazil’s corn and soybean exports globally.
It is important to understand how dual cropping has helped a country like Brazil, which plays a vital role in the global food supply chain, to increase its agricultural productivity while limiting the conversion of natural land for agriculture and perhaps helping to offset some of the negative environmental impacts that may result from the expansion of cultivated land.
From 2003 to 2016, double cropping in Brazil offset the equivalent of about 76.7 million hectares of arable land for maize production, more than double the annual maize area harvested in the United States.
While not all countries grow food in an area of the world that is conducive or even possible to double cropping, for other pantropical grain countries, double cropping could be a solution to increasing cereal production without expanding the cultivated land over natural landscapes.
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Material provided by University of Delaware. Original written by Adam Thomas. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.