On a scalding hot morning last week, I attended a field day in Itapetininga, central Sao Paulo state.
The event was typical of such occasions. Seed sales reps took turns to show off rows of their best and newest soybean varieties.
But one thing struck me as I listened to their pitches. Everybody was selling the same thing, namely Intacta RR2 Pro.
Nearly all the new soybean varieties on show contained Monsanto's new technology, which the U.S. ag tech giant says combines tolerance to glyphosate and high yields with significant resistance to the main caterpillars that attack bean plants.
"The technology is taking over just as the original Roundup Ready technology did when it arrived," said Fausto Fanchin, a local sales representative at BrasMax, the Brazilian branch of Argentine seed company Don Mario.
Launched first in Brazil, Monsanto sold Intacta RR2 Pro commercially for the first time in 2013-14.
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It offered seeds for around 6 million acres, although just a little under half that was actually planted with the technology. Farmers wanted to wait and see if the new technology delivered on claims and was worth the extra cost.
The provisional answer seems to be yes. Reports from around the country are confirming Monsanto's claims. Much less spraying was needed and crops registered yields that are at least in line with top-producing varieties.
As a result, many more farmers will be keen to use the technology next year.
"Those that didn't plant Intacta this year will plant it next year and those who don't plant it next year will plant it the year after. Intacta is here to stay," said Enior Pellizzaro, head agronomist at the C. Vale cooperative, which operates across Brazil's soy belt.
One of farmers' concerns was that the technology wouldn't repay the extra cost. Royalties on the technology are R$115 per hectare ($19.65 per acre), while RR1 is royalty-free.
"But the technology really does cut your insecticide costs and the crops look good despite dry weather. I am very happy with it," said Arivaldo Albuquerque, who planted Intacta on a portion of his 1,900 acres in Itapetininga.
C. Vale's Pellizzaro estimates Intacta could be used on 30% of Brazil's soybean area next year.
Indeed, one of the principle concerns is that Intacta becomes ubiquitous, and in doing so loses its potency.
If farmers don't incorporate no-plant zones, there is a risk that resistance will grow
"We could lose this resource in a matter of three years unless we are careful," noted BrasMax's Fanchin.
Seed companies are recommending farms plant at least 20% of soybean land with non-Intacta varieties.
Monsanto developed Intacta in response to the increase in insect populations in soybean fields and that trend has accelerated in Brazil in the last two years, while a major new threat has appeared in the form of the Helicoverpa armigera caterpillar. It's ready made marketing for Monsanto and a trend that has made farmers more prepared to pay for pest-resistant beans.
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