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All hail Brazil, the next king of soybeans

Monsanto Brazil soybeans
AP Photo / Natacha Pisarenko
Soybeans: Delicious … and litigious.
By Matt Phillips
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Monsanto’s better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings had a distinctly Latin flavor. “In 2013, the company expects Latin America to again be a strong source of growth complementing the U.S. business, driven by the continued corn opportunity in Brazil and Argentina,” the company noted in its official release.

The crippling 2012 drought in the US has brought the role those South American nations play in global crop markets even further to the fore. But it’s not only the “corn opportunity”: these markets are also a growing source of soybeans, which made up 18% of Monsanto’s 2012 sales in seeds and genomics. (Corn was over half.)

“Brazil is expected next year to dethrone the United States as the world’s largest producer of soybeans. With so much land available for cultivation, that status will probably become permanent,” reported the Washington Post, back in November. China increasingly depends on Brazilian beans to feed its growing population. And Monsanto’s seeds have played a part in that. Some 85% of Brazil’s soybean crop grows out of the kind of genetically modified seeds that Monsanto specializes in.

So the company should be well placed to take advantage of Brazil’s soybean supremacy. But there’s a bit of a catch. Monsanto has been engaged in a running legal battle with Brazilian farmers in recent years over its collection of “crop royalties” on sales of soybeans, which, Monsanto argues, is compensation for the money it spent developing the seeds. The company recently said it would restart collection of the royalties as the case continues to play out in court.  ”We’re getting more balanced contributions across geographies, across crops, and across business segments. It is that balance that allows us to manage through some things like the Brazil Soybean uncertainty,” a company executive said on the post earnings conference call.

And for the record, soy-based legal battles between farmers and Monsanto aren’t a strictly Brazilian phenomenon. The US Supreme Court is also set to hear a case between an American soybean farmer and Monsanto over the company’s efforts to limit use of its modified soybean seeds.

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