December 22, 2004



Brazil Soy Farmers Combat Asian Rust With Air-flown Fungicide


With planting now complete across Brazil's massive soybean belt, farmers are nervously stalking their crop with magnifying glasses searching for signs of the deadly Asian rust fungus.


Farmers lost up to 10% of their last crop to the fungus, which spread on the wind across Brazil, even as key fungicides were in short supply.


To ensure there will be no shortages this year, the main fungicide importers, Basf and Syngenta, have set up special supply routes, including regular flights from Europe.


German chemical giant Basf will import the principal agent of its Opera fungicide from Spain, which will then be mixed at its Guaratingueta plant in Sao Paulo.


Swiss agrichemical company Syngenta will fly out its supply of Priori- Xtra fungicide from Grangemouth, Scotland, from its fleet fo 20 aircraft.


"A ship takes 30 days while a plane takes just 12 hours. Of course the cost will be higher, but it's worth it to increase our share of the market," said Odanil Leite, manager of Syngenta's fungicide department.


Demand for anti-rust fungicides has soared since the disease was first identified on Brazilian soil in 2001. According to Brazil's Herbicide, Pesticide and Fungicide Industry Association, or Sindag, the anti-rust market will see revenues of over $700 million this year.


What is certain is that the supply of fungicides will likely be lacking across some parts of the soy belt this season, according to Jose Tadashi Yorinori, crop pathologist of the Agriculture Ministry's crop- research agency.


The fungus attacks the leaves of soy plants, exposing the pods to the searing Brazilian sun and can reduce yields by 80%.


Producers now are better prepared, and they are expected to increase the number of fungicide applications per hectare from 1.7 to 2 times per crop cycle.


But with falling prices and higher input costs, farmers now have less money to spare.


"As a result, producers are likely to spray after rust has been found instead of before, which is less efficient," said Syngenta's Leite.


Endrigo Dalcin prowls his 700 hectares of soybeans in Nova Xavantina, Mato Grosso, in search of signs of the disease.


His region has yet to register a case of rust this year, but he is preparing to spray once flowering starts after Christmas.


The fungus has been spotted in nine Brazilian states, across 81 municipalities, and is assumed to be present across the entire soy belt. Embrapa has warned farmers to be particularly observant over the next couple of weeks in areas.


The largest number of cases was registered in the No. 2 state of Parana, which has been particularly wet.

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