Consultant report

Multiple and cover cropping in Brazil: Status and opportunities for biofuel production

The deployment of double cropping and cover cropping in the Brazilian agricultural system has had considerable success in terms of reducing soil erosion and stabilizing soil quality. In addition, the introduction of the safrinha corn crop has supported the development of a Brazilian domestic corn ethanol industry, producing 2.5 billion litres per year. It has been suggested that the RED II could create an opportunity for an increase in the use of safrinha corn as a feedstock for biofuels consumed in the EU by treating safrinha corn as an intermediate crop and exempting it from limitations on food-based biofuels.

Safrinha corn should not be exempted from these limits on food- and feed-based biofuels. Firstly, given the value of the safrinha crop, it should be treated as a main crop alongside the first crop rather than as intermediate. Secondly, even if safrinha corn were to be treated as intermediate, the RED II states that an intermediate crop should only be excluded from the food and feed crop category if its use for biofuel production does not trigger demand for additional land. As the safrinha corn crop is already well integrated into the global grain supply, it would be very hard to argue that diverting it for biofuel use would not create new land demand.

If safrinha corn is determined to meet the standard to be exempted from the food and feed cap in the RED II, this could potentially create a large market opportunity to both ship Brazilian corn ethanol to EU markets, and to ship Brazilian corn to EU markets for processing. This would have direct impacts on other crop markets, and would drive indirect land use change and marginal food commodity price increases.

While safrinha corn is already an established major part of global grain production, there may be opportunities to develop other second cropping systems, either by finding ways to deliver economically viable grain and oilseed harvests from cover crops already in use, or by adapting crops such as brassica carinata to Brazilian conditions. If the European biofuel industry could support the development of such models, this could provide very great long-term benefits in terms of food production.