It's winter here in Brazil, and I'm not pouring tap water on the frozen-over lock of my car door like I used to do in Kansas City. No, winter across most of Brazil doesn't have anything to do with ice or snow or wet boots drying on a piece of newspaper by the back door. Instead, winter is mostly about dry season—the dry season that's hitting second-crop corn hard, both North and South, and that brings with it the no-plant period for soybeans.
The no-plant period, called the vazio sanitário, starts next week across much of Brazil, including in Mato Grosso and Paraná, Brazil's two biggest soybean producers. Brazil's Public Law 11.200/97 sets up no-plant periods for soybeans, but demands that producers destroy any soja guaxa, or volunteer beans, that may have grown up in fields or around storage facilities. And it certainly covers growing beans under center pivots for varying periods, state by state, for 60 or 90 days through Brazil's dry winter.
The goal is to reduce opportunities for hosting Asian Soybean Rust from season to season. Fines for planting beans—or just having soja guaxa on your property—can range from around $30 to around $3000, aside from losing any chance of getting your hands on Brazil's interest-subsidized farm loans. Even so, the Paraná state agency in charge of checking for the presence of dry-season beans issued 134 fines last year for infractions in the country's number-two bean state.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo Medeiros, up in Mato Grosso, is one of the 45 or so guys in his state who checks for soja guaxa there. He says he's not looking for any uptick in infractions of the no-plant period this year, as the rains have pretty much stopped by this time. The lion's share of infractions, he says, occur at the outset of the period, in June, rather than being producers trying to get an early jump on planting their beans before the no-plant period ends in September.
With the no-plant rule in place since 2005—a rule urged upon regulators by soybean producers themselves, says Medeiros—infractions these days are pretty well limited to soja guaxa being located on a farm rather than producers trying to get away with planting under irrigation. "Last year," he says, "we only had one infraction where a farmer was planting soybeans (during the no-plant period," he says.
"In the first instance of volunteer beans being found on a farm," he says, "we usually give a warning." Fines are issued only if live bean plants are still on the farm upon a second visit, he indicates.
The Brazilians are serious about controlling Asian Rust for a reason. There were 707 rust outbreaks in the year ending May 31, according to the Anti-Rust Consortium, a public/private group that tracks Asian Rust in Brazil. One Brazilian research organization, Embrapa, says each application cost producers about $9 per acre—and most producers count on three preventative sprayings per season.
Most producers carefully follow the no-plant rules, I'm told. At those costs, it's a safe bet that Brazilian producers would gladly put up with a pile of wet boots at the back door if it meant no rust.
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