SAO PAULO, Brazil (DTN) -- They have been talking about doing it for a while, but this year it looks like some farmers in Brazil's Mato Grosso will actually plant a second crop of soybeans directly after the first.
One million acres or more of soybeans could be planted in January and February, which is equivalent to about 5% of Brazil's leading farm state's summer crop, specialists forecast.
"There are a lot of people serious about planting second-crop soybeans this year. Last year they thought about it, this year there will be a crop," said Laercio Lenz, president of the farm association in Sorriso, the largest soybean-producing district in Mato Grosso.
Double cropping has become well established in Mato Grosso, Parana and Goias states over the last 10 years. Originally, farmers planted corn following the summer soybeans as a cover crop but found that, with a little extra investment, second-crop corn was commercially viable. As a result, second-crop corn area has nearly tripled over the last seven years, reaching 20 million acres in 2012-13, and Brazil's overall corn output has doubled.
However, with futures prices in the doldrums and stocks still high from the last crop, farmers stand to post a loss on planting second-crop corn in more remote parts of Mato Grosso this year.
"Many farmers barely broke even on last year's crop and, with prices lower, they are looking for an alternative," said Lenz.
The only commercially viable alternative to corn is soybeans.
Second-crop soybeans have lower yield potential than the summer crop, perhaps 31 to 36 bushels per acre (bpa) compared with a summer average of 45 bpa, although costs are lower as many farmers will use seeds harvested from their first crop and don't have to spread as much fertilizer.
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However, farmers have to look beyond the 2013-14 season to calculate the true cost of a second crop of soy.
By double-cropping soybeans, farmers will make it much harder and more costly to control nematodes worms, caterpillars and the feared Asian soybean rust in the main 2014-15 soybean crop.
"Farmers would be condemning themselves, and their neighbors, to much higher chemical costs next year," said Luiz Nery Ribas, technical director at the Mato Grosso Soybean and Corn Growers Association (Aprosoja).
The tropical agriculture of Mato Grosso is already much more prone to disease and pests because there is no winter freeze and a second crop of soybeans will only make matters worse.
It is difficult to get a handle on how much soy will be planted from next month, as so few of the seeds will be bought commercially.
There are rumors that up to 2.5 million acres could be sown in Mato Grosso.
At an event in Sao Paulo last week, Arlindo Moura, president of Vanguarda Agro, one of Brazil's largest corporate farms, predicted 1 million to 1.2 million acres.
Aprosoja's Ribas remains optimistic that many farmers will drop the idea once they have weighed the pros and cons.
"Farmers would prefer to plant corn, not soy. If they can see a way of doing that, they will," he said.
The second-crop output would add to what is shaping up to be a bumper summer crop. The first crop is pegged at around 90 million metric tons (mmt), which is 10% higher than last year and slightly larger than the U.S. crop. On the other hand, the disease and pest problems caused by the double cropping could chip away at yields, and will certainly raise chemical costs, for the main 2014-15 crop.
Alastair Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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