Brazil’s soybean yields have become competitive with those of the United States and Argentina, but the soil demands a lot of phosphorous, which is not renewable. In the United States, meanwhile, historical applications of the fertilizer have polluted waterways. What accounts for these problems? It’s the soils, according to a new study comparing agriculture in the three countries.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Just 20 years ago, the soils of the Amazon basin were thought unsuitable for large-scale agriculture, but then industrial agriculture — and the ability to fertilize on a massive scale — came to the Amazon. What were once the poorest soils in the world now produce crops at a rate that rivals that of global breadbaskets. Soils no longer seem to be the driver — or the limiter — of agricultural productivity. But a new Brown University-led study of three soybean growing regions, including Brazil, finds that soils have taken on a new role: mediating the environmental consequences of modern farming. (more…)