In a recent hearing in the Agriculture and Agrarian Reform Commission of the Brazilian Congress, researchers from Embrapa estimated that Brazil could become self sufficient in wheat production within 10 years by expanding wheat production into the cerrado regions of central and northeastern Brazil. Wheat is the only major crop in Brazil for which the country is not self-sufficient.
Brazil produces about half of the wheat consumed within the country with most of the remainder imported from neighboring Argentina and Uruguay. In fact, wheat is Brazil’s second largest import after petroleum and petroleum products.
Currently, approximately 90% of Brazil’s wheat is produced in southern Brazil, but Embrapa is changing that. There are over 200 million hectares of cerrado (over 500 million acres) that could be converted to crop production without any deforestation. These potential areas are mainly what is classified as degraded pastures. These areas may have been converted to pastures generations ago and they are generally infertile with low productivity.
Once the fertility is improved, these areas can become highly productive, which satisfies the overall goal of producing more food on land that has already been cleared, thus reducing the pressure to clear more land to increase production.
In recent years, Embrapa has developed wheat varieties suited to irrigated production in central Brazilian states such as Goias with very good results. The wheat is higher yielding than in southern Brazil with generally better quality because it is harvested in July and August when the weather is dry. A potential problem for 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 results in poor quality wheat.
Embrapa continues to conduct research and develop wheat varieties suited for the cerrado regions of central Brazil and for tropical areas further north near the equator. In the state of Roraima for example, which lies north of the Amazon River, recent test plots have indicated very high wheat yields and excellent grain quality.
Currently, approximately 90% of Brazil’s wheat is produced in southern Brazil, but that region only consumes approximately 19% of Brazil’s wheat. That means that the wheat or wheat products must be transported long distances, several thousand kilometers in some cases, by truck at high costs to where it is consumed. Southeastern Brazil consumes 42% of Brazil’s wheat with the center-west region consuming 5.5%, the northeastern region consumes 22%, and northern Brazil consumes 10%.
Growing wheat where it is consumed would be beneficial not only for producers, but also for consumers in the form of lower prices.