War in Ukraine: Brazil turns to natural fertilizers

Rio de Janeiro: Faced with the threat of fertilizer shortages and rising fertilizer prices with sanctions targeting Russia, the Brazilian agricultural sector is turning to natural alternative solutions to reduce production costs while ensuring its crops.

The South American giant is the fourth largest consumer of NPK chemical fertilizers – made from nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – used to prepare soils for soybeans, corn, cotton, sugarcane and coffee.

It imports approximately 80% of this input, and almost a quarter of these purchases come from Russia, its main supplier.

While the Brazilian government is reaching out to other foreign suppliers, including Canada, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, and seeking to revive domestic fertilizer production, farmers are interested in so-called “emerging” products.

Among them are natural remineralizing materials (or “agricultural minerals”) obtained from nutrient-rich rocks, which are crushed and then spread in fields before sowing.

While other countries such as France, the United States, Canada, India and Australia use these equalizers, Brazil, a leading agricultural power, is the most advanced in this field.

“Brazil is a tropical country, and rain transports nutrients from the soil. The rock powder allows its ecosystem to regenerate and improve its performance,” explains Marcio Remedio, director of geology and mineral resources to AFP. Serving Brazil, linked to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

Remineralization was approved as an agricultural input by a 2013 law, and “also allows plant roots to develop further and pick up the nutrients in the soil,” according to Susie Hof Theodoro, a geologist and researcher at the University of Brasilia.

“Rocks with the right profile can be found in many parts of Brazil, and the price is much cheaper” than chemicals, she adds. The powder can for example be produced by mining companies from their tailings, as long as they do not contain potentially toxic elements.

Almost no more chemical fertilizers

“According to a study conducted last year, nearly 5% of Brazilian agricultural area is used by reminerals. By the end of the year, this number will be even more significant because the demand from the 30 certified Brazilian suppliers is unprecedented.

“Most of them have already sold all of their annual production, whether to large and medium-sized farms or to small farms, especially agro-ecological farms,” the researcher notes.

Founder of The Associated Group for Sustainable Agriculture (GAAS), which includes more than 700 farmers, researchers, and consultants, soybean and corn producer Rogerio Vian began using products made with microorganisms extracted from the native forest. seeding time.

These work to control pests and help plants absorb nutrients from the soil. For nine years, on his farm in Goiás (Midwest), he prepared his own organic inputs and combined them with remineralizing devices.

Now, on his 1,000 hectares, he almost no longer uses chemical fertilizers and is not used at all to grow soybeans.

“It reduced fertilization and seed processing costs by 50%, while maintaining good yields,” he says. “Thanks to its great biodiversity, Brazil has a huge potential in terms of tools and ways of working, which we don’t know yet.”

irreversible development»

For Jose Carlos Polidoro, a researcher from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Organization (Embrapa), the country will continue to consume NPK fertilizers but should bet on these natural products.

“Biological and bio-mineral fertilizers, made from residues from mining activities, biological residues from the agricultural industry and sewage sludge currently account for 5% of the Brazilian fertilizer market, but they can help reduce our imports by 20%,” he said.

The Deputy Technical Director of the National Agricultural Federation, Reginaldo Minari, also cites the increased use by soybean producers of rhizosphere bacteria “which remove nitrogen in the air to return it to plants,” thus reducing the consumption of industrial nitrogen fertilizers.

But the growing adoption of these different products is not without hurdles, notes Carlos Petul, a technical advisor in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and a member of the GAAS.

“Farmers have little technical assistance and find it difficult to get credit to increase investment. But the evolution of our production system is irreversible.”

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