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Brazil May Become Self-sufficient in Wheat Within 10 Years

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At a recent hearing of the Brazilian Congress Committee on Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, researchers from Embrapa estimated that Brazil could be self-sufficient in wheat production within 10 years by expanding wheat cultivation to the central and northeastern savannah regions. Wheat is the only major crop for which Brazil is not self-sufficient.

Brazil produces about half of the wheat for domestic consumption, and imports most of the rest from neighbouring Argentina and Uruguay. In fact, wheat is Brazil's second largest import after oil and petroleum products.

Currently, around 90% of Brazil's wheat is produced in the southern region of the country, but Embrapa is set to change this. More than 200 million hectares (over 500 million acres) of land in the savannah belt can be converted to crop production without deforestation. These potential areas are mainly classified as degraded grasslands. These areas may have been converted to pasture a few generations ago and are often poor and less productive.

Once fertility in these areas is enhanced, productivity can be increased, thus achieving the overall goal of producing more food on cleared land and reducing the pressure to clear more land to increase production.

In recent years, Embrapa has developed wheat varieties suitable for irrigated cultivation in central Brazilian states such as Goiás, with very good results. Wheat yields in these areas are higher than in the south and because the wheat harvest in these areas is in July and August when the weather is dry, the quality is generally better. A potential problem with wheat grown in southern Brazil is that it is generally harvested in October and November after the summer rains have started. Heavy rains during harvest often result in a reduction in the quality of the wheat.

Embrapa is constantly researching and developing wheat varieties suitable for the central savannah region of Brazil and the tropical regions further north near the equator. For example, recent trials in Roraima, north of the Amazon, have produced high yields of wheat with excellent grain quality.

Currently, about 90% of Brazil's wheat is produced in the southern region, but this region consumes only about 19% of Brazil's wheat. This means that wheat or wheat products have to be transported by truck over long distances, sometimes thousands of kilometres, to reach the place of consumption, which is costly. The south-eastern region of Brazil consumes 42% of Brazil's own wheat, the central-western region consumes 5.5%, the north-eastern region consumes 22% and the northern region consumes 10%.

Growing wheat where it is consumed will not only benefit the producer, but also the consumer because the price will fall.

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