El Niño affects seed production in the south of the country

Shortage in the last harvest could limit expansion in autumn/winter crops in the region

08.04.2024 | 16:22 (UTC -3)
Joseani M. Antunes
Photo: Diogo Zanatta
Photo: Diogo Zanatta

Excessive rainfall, induced by El Niño in the last harvest, caused losses in grain and forage production in the South Region. In addition to quantitative losses, the seed sector is now evaluating qualitative losses, as many multiplication areas did not reach specific parameters for the commercialization of seeds.

“The hot and humid environment of the winter and spring of 2023 affected both the physiological quality of the seeds and the sanitary quality. Environmental conditions favored ear diseases and, at the same time, made their control difficult, as in many cases excessive rainfall prevented machines from entering the fields to apply fungicides. Furthermore, excessive rainfall during the harvest period accelerated the deterioration of the seeds”, says Vladirene Vieira from the Embrapa Trigo seed production sector.

In wheat, the drop in seed production reached 50% in Rio Grande do Sul. According to Apassul, for the 2024 harvest, 138 thousand tons of certified wheat seeds will be available, a volume sufficient to supply a cultivation area close to a million hectares in RS. The rate of use of certified seed in this harvest is estimated at 78%, the highest in history ever recorded by Apassul, indicating that the use of saved seed will not be significant, precisely because of the risk of investing in low quality seed.

“Last year, the rate of use of certified seed was 58% in RS. The super harvest of 2022, both in productivity and quality, was an incentive for farmers to save seed for 2023. On the contrary, in 2023 we had one of the worst wheat harvests, considering that the farmer does not have specific equipment for seed production , we will have a significant reduction in saved grains”, explains the executive director of Apassul, Jean Cirino.

To estimate the impacts of a possible increase in the price of seeds in this harvest, due to lower supply than demand, Embrapa Trigo's technology transfer team consulted some cooperatives in Rio Grande do Sul and assessed that, within the production cost spreadsheets, The price of a 40kg bag of wheat seeds varies from R$130 to R$150, slightly above the R$120/sc charged last harvest. “In the 2023 harvest, there was a large supply of seeds on the market which caused prices to fall. This year, the supply of seeds is more restricted, the supply-demand relationship is well adjusted”, observes Jean Cirino.

In Paraná, the drop is estimated at 20%, accounting for the fact that around 30 thousand tons of wheat seeds will no longer enter the market due to lack of quality. Apasem's forecast is that the seed sector will guarantee production to cover 1,1 million hectares with wheat in Paraná. “We believe that the reduction in the supply of seeds will accompany the lower intention of the producer in Paraná to cultivate wheat. The reduction in wheat prices and uncertainties regarding the climate for next winter have made producers more cautious with the winter harvest”, assesses the executive director of Apasem, Jhony Moller.

Second crop corn, a traditional competitor to wheat in the northern half of Paraná, is not expected to advance again, repeating the area of ​​2,4 million hectares in 2024, without impacting wheat cultivation in the region. However, a 33% increase in the second harvest bean area is expected, taking up the space that was used in the previous year by winter cereals. Deral's forecast is a 17% reduction in the area with wheat in Paraná.

Lack of forage seeds

The market also faces a lack of seeds for the establishment of pastures. Sulpasto estimates that the supply of black oat seeds will be reduced by 40% and in ryegrass the supply is up to 80% lower compared to last year. “Most forage seed producers are also grain producers, so with the short window to manage winter cereals, the producer had to opt for the greatest potential return and chose to 'save' the grains”, says the president from Sulpasto, Cláudio Lopes. According to him, producers who managed to harvest earlier even had satisfactory results, but later forages, such as ryegrass harvested in November/December, suffered widespread losses in Rio Grande do Sul.

The gauchos even tried to resort to imports, buying forage seeds from Uruguay and Argentina, but there was also crop failure in neighboring countries, resulting in a shortage of seeds, in addition to internal problems in Brazil, such as the strike by agricultural inspectors, which is delaying the release of batches. “We believe that only 30% of the imported volume will arrive in time for the implementation of forage crops at the indicated time”, assesses Lopes.

With demand rising, forage seed prices continue to rise. While in the last harvest it was possible to purchase black oats for R$0,88/kg, today the price reaches R$4,00/kg (based on Passo Fundo, RS). As an alternative to the shortage of black oats and ryegrass, Cláudio Lopes recommends that producers invest in white oats and other winter cereals that can be used as forage. “The impact on the supply of forage should not be greater due to the drop in cattle prices, which reflects the reduction in herds”, recalls Lopes, highlighting that “it is still early to define scenarios, but there will certainly be a movement in the sector to minimize the long-term effects caused by climate”.

Also in Paraná, the lack of forage seeds is expected to affect herds, increasing production costs especially in the Southwest region, where the State's main dairy basin is located, and in livestock farming in Campos Gerais. “The deficit in forage seeds will affect the production of hay and silage for animal feed, as well as soil cover on many properties that usually use black oats. Alternatives exist to avoid leaving the soil uncovered, such as brachiaria and turnip, but the cost ends up being higher”, explains Jhony Moller, from Apasem.

Care to reduce problems in farming

The use of quality seeds is essential to ensure production potential, guaranteeing the adequate establishment of grain or forage crops. A seed production crop must follow a series of standards and rules established by Mapa's own legislation, which attest to the quality of the seeds, formed by genetic, physical, physiological and sanitary attributes. These characteristics will ensure that the farmer acquires pure seeds, without varietal mixtures or any other inert material, which are healthy and have good potential for seedling establishment in the field.

However, like grain farming, seed production also suffered from the impacts of the climate in 2023. Among the main problems that may be related to El Niño are lower physiological quality and the incidence of diseases.  

Depending on the adverse climate, the seeds may be infected with microorganisms that cause diseases in winter cereals. To avoid damage, it is recommended to treat seeds with fungicides that protect the seedling from the action of pathogenic agents, such as fungi housed in the soil or in the seed itself. Depending on the product and the relationship with the target pest and disease, winter cereal seed treatment guarantees protection of plants against fungi and soil pests for up to 60 days after sowing, favoring the initial development of the crop.

“Seed treatment will enable the sanitary quality of the crop at the beginning of the crop cycle, preventing the emergence of initial disease outbreaks and their distribution throughout the crop” assesses researcher João Leodato Nunes Maciel, remembering that seed treatment should also mean reduction in aerial applications of fungicides to plants in more advanced stages of development, impacting crop costs. In comparison, the cost of treating seeds with fungicides represents 30% less than the cost of an aerial application.

In addition to quality, the quantity of seeds is a criterion that deserves attention when sowing. It is necessary to avoid using quantities far below ideal or excesses, which result in increased costs and could result in lodging. Embrapa Trigo's guidance is to always check the information provided by the company that developed the cultivar (the breeder), using the indicated quantity of seeds, considering variations according to the region, the sowing time and the history of the area.

“We are facing an atypical year, with many challenges for the producer, who will need to show professionalism to achieve positive results by the end of the harvest”, concludes Apasem executive, Jhony Moller.

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