The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Brazil: The New King of Crops

More bad news for the Malthusians means more good news for everyone: In Brazil, a huge, formerly empty and infertile region is likely to become one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world, helping to keep global food prices low for the next half century. The Washington Post reports:

Brazil is expected next year to dethrone the United States as the world’s largest producer of soybeans. With so much land available for cultivation, that status will probably become permanent. [...]

State-backed research since the 1970s has turned the Cerrado—once considered unproductive scrubland—into a vast farm belt. Still mostly unplanted, and comfortably distant from Brazil’s environmentally sensitive Amazon region, the Cerrado has become a new frontier in the green revolution that made U.S. farmers the most productive in the world. Just as the vast plains of the American Midwest helped keep down world food prices for the last half of the 20th century, the Cerrado may do the same in the 21st.

The Cerrado now produces vast amounts of soybeans and corn—so much in fact that this region is already critical for the world supply. Engineers and agriculturalists found a way to grow soybean, which is native to temperate areas of China, in the tropics. They also developed a variety of soybean that can be planted in September and harvested in January, leaving time to plant a second crop, often corn, to be harvested in June.

All this will help keep food prices low for coming decades and reduce pressure on the Amazon rainforests. It also offers a glimpse of the possibility that food production will keep pace or even increase under conditions of global warming.

Although Brazil’s rise to superpower status in this industry poses a challenge to American producers (which analysts say are in decline), developing previously infertile land for new crops and keeping food prices low are going to be critical to feeding a global population that is set to explode over the next few decades.

Published on November 19, 2012 12:00 pm