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November 30, 2016

Cerrado Soils of Northern South America could be very Productive

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

The cerrado soils of northern South America have many of the same characteristics of the cerrado soils in central Brazil. They are generally acid by nature, they have a low levels of phosphorus and potassium, they are high in aluminum, they are highly weathered and infertile by nature with low organic matter and a low native productivity.

The cerrado soils of central Brazil have many of the same characteristics, but they have been transformed into highly productive soils through the incorporation of fertilizers, proper soil management, and crop varieties specifically developed for the region. To the area's benefit, there are abundant sources phosphorus and agricultural limestone in northern South America that would be needed to make the region's soils very productive. The tropical weather in the region makes for long growing seasons and the region could become very profitable for grain, fruit, and livestock production.

The current development of the cerrado regions of northern South America varies by country. In Columbia and Venezuela many of the cerrado regions are already being utilized for primarily cattle production. The productivity is relatively low due to the low level use of fertilizers and technology. Unfortunately, agricultural development has not been a focus of the central government in either country. In fact, in Venezuela there are rampant and widespread food shortages due to mismanagement of the economy on the part of the federal government. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing the country due to economic hardship and a lack of basic food stuffs.

In the countries of Guiana and Suriname, the cerrado areas have a low level of utilization due to low use of technology and the lack of crop varieties developed for the region. The lack of suitable crop varieties could quickly be addressed through research by either the governments or multinational seed companies.

All of these countries have a low level of vertical development in their agricultural sector. With an increase in grain production, it is anticipated that there would be a parallel increase in hog and poultry production as well. An ongoing concern in the entire region is the lack of suitable infrastructure and investments needed for sustained agricultural development.

One big advantage of these northern areas is that they are relatively close to population centers and coastal port facilities that could service the markets of North American and Europe and these areas are very close to the expanded Panama Canal. The cost of transporting grain from these areas would be greatly reduced compared to southern Brazil or Argentina. Significant infrastructure improvements would be needed though to fully exploit the situation. A more stable economic and political situation in these countries would also be essential to fully utilize these cerrado areas for agricultural expansion.