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Brazil cattle ranching changes slow Amazon deforestation

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Cassio Carvalho do Val is about to invest nearly $2 million to add 10,000 cattle to his ranch on the edge of the Amazon. But instead of burning down forest for his growing herd to graze freely he will break with tradition, reducing his pastureland and adding grain to their diet.

Val is one of a growing number of farmers betting on so-called integrated farming by diversifying production and revenue. His move epitomizes a quiet and fragile revolution that marks a departure from Brazil’s slash-and-burn past.

It is a trend that may also help ease the felling of the world’s largest rain forest.

Soy growers are rotating fields with more corn and cotton, planting forest and raising cattle. Ranchers are planting corn to supplement their herd’s traditional diet of grasses.

This tends toward greater and more efficient output while easing pressure for expanding area, and bodes well for the consumers struggling worldwide with higher food prices, as well as conservationists who see Brazil as a crucial battlefield…

Val, a Sao Paulo University-educated sociologist, is one of a growing number of farmers taking a more scientific view of production. He has hired consultants to help acquire a whole new set of skills in grain farming…

The keystone to large-scale integrated farming in Brazil is cattle, especially as far as preservation of the Amazon and other tropical biomes are concerned…

Inevitably, leaders in Brazilian agriculture and ranching will throw out numbers about the 137,000 square miles of pasture in Brazil that can be easily converted into farmland “without having to cut a single tree.” Brazil currently plants 66,875 square miles to crops and commercial forest.

But converting pasture into planted area is not simple. It raises the question of where the cattle will graze.

Brazil’s beef production is grass-fed, unlike in the United States and Europe where grain on feedlots is used mostly. Brazil could double or triple the cattle per hectare from the present average of nearly 1 head/ha simply by introducing grain to their diet, better breeding practices and fertilizing and replanting grasses in pastures, beef analysts say.

Then, there is the question of which sort of beef actually is healthiest for consumers? Grain-fed or grass-fed? The healthiest meat-eating cultures are France and Italy – where grass-fed is preferred.

After all, the choice for grass-fed vs. grain-fed around the world is an economic one, e.g., the cost of getting final product to market. Health hasn’t a damned thing to do with it.

Now, the trends in Brazil introduce a completely different accomplishment. Slowing the destruction of forest. Contradictions abound.

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Written by Ed Campbell

September 23, 2011 at 10:00 am

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