Soybeans are still the star, and that’s why the second corn crop continues to be Brazil’s “little crop”

By Daniele Siqueira, AgRural Commodities Agrícolas 

Christmas lights are everywhere once again and that is a reminder for Brazilian farmers: it is December already and time to make or break the soybean crop. I am writing this article early in the month, while the crop in central states (such as top producer Mato Grosso) develops in very good shape, already heading into the pod-filling stage with abundant rain and excellent yield prospects.  

Daniele Siqueira

Things have been good too in the Southeast and in the North/Northeast of the country, where most of the soybeans are still in vegetative stages. In the South, on the other hand, a drier and warmer pattern has slowed the soybean planting in Rio Grande do Sul, our third largest producer, and made farmers concerned about areas in reproductive stages in parts of Paraná, Brazil’s second-largest producer, especially because forecasts for the first half of December show little rain and high temperatures. 

If those forecasts change and rains hit those southern states, Brazil will be several steps closer to current production projections, which put the 2021-22 soybean crop between 143 and 145 million metric tons, a new record for the country. If the dry spell continues, however, things will start to become more complicated, especially in Paraná, as more areas enter reproductive stages. 

Larger corn area, despite higher input costs 

Brazil’s first corn crop, on the other hand, already has yield losses in Rio Grande do Sul, a state that starts planting in late August and faced very dry conditions in November. Rio Grande do Sul produces only 5% of Brazil’s total corn production (first, second and third crops combined). But, as a very important pork and chicken producer and exporter, the state messes with the corn market dynamics when its crop fails.  

The most important corn crop in Brazil, however, continues to be the second crop, our “safrinha,” which is planted right after the soybean harvest. The planting window is likely to be good in early 2022, since the soybean crop is a little ahead of schedule. That is excellent news for farmers, who planted very late in 2021, due to a delayed soybean crop, and had a historical corn crop failure due to drought and frosts.

AgRural estimates a 6% increase in the second corn crop area in 2022. But now you might wonder: is Brazil going to increase its second corn area even with the spike in fertilizer prices? Yes, we will. Many farmers have already purchased their inputs, especially in central states, and, if we cannot buy more, or if all those fertilizers don’t get here on time, we will use less fertilizer and still increase the planted area, even at the risk of having lower yields.  

That happens because the second corn crop is, by nature, a risky crop, and, more important than that, it is a crop that complements the soybean crop in terms of crop rotation, agronomic management, production costs, net income and farmer selling strategies, in which soybeans normally take the lead.  

I cannot help but smile when I hear people saying that “safrinha,” our “little crop,” is not little anymore, because now it accounts for about two-thirds of Brazil’s total corn production. “Safrinha” corn is, by definition, the corn planted after the soybean harvest, in the very same area. The big crop, the main crop in our farmers’ hearts, is the soybean crop.  

And that is why Brazil is going to plant more corn in the new second crop even using less fertilizer. It is an extra income. There are only two things that might make farmers change their minds about the second corn crop area: prices and weather. But I will write more about that next time.

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