Remineralization’s Success in Brazil Draws Ire

At the moment there is a very strong clash within Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, which recently released a policy clarification memo saying that there was no proof of the effectiveness of the use of rock powders. The use of remineralizers is growing rapidly among medium and large farmers. The fact that more and more people are using remineralizers, including conventional farmers who produce thousands of hectares, has put the chemical fertilizer producers on alert. This is particularly true because Brazil is not included in the global elite who control the production of fertilizers despite being the fourth biggest consumer for these products, which has previously led to Brazil importing 70% of its fertilizers. In recent years, Brazil has been dedicated to becoming energy independent, and remineralization fits well within a sustainable, energy-independent national policy.

Left to right: Embrapa lead researcher Dr. Eder de Souza Martins, University of Brasilia’s remineralization pioneers and researchers Prof. Othon Leonardos and Prof. Suzi Huff Theodoro

According to Suzi Huff Theodoro, leading remineralization researcher in Brazil, the situation is very serious. However, the broad coalition advocating remineralization remains united in response to Embrapa’s questioning of the scientific advances and researchers of at least five of the main Brazilian universities.

As a result, over 150 scientists, professors, students and entrepreneurs from 12 universities and 20 Brazilian states have sent a letter in response to Embrapa. They are astonished by Embrapa’s recent official policy clarification on silicate agrominerals (remineralizers) in agriculture, which suggested scientific evidence is insufficient for the state-owned research enterprise (similar in role to the USDA) to recommend remineralization as a source of soil nutrients for agriculture.

According to the January 27 clarification memo, since the early 2000s Embrapa, an Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture-affiliated corporation, together with its partners, has developed projects aimed at identifying, characterizing and evaluating the agronomic and economic potential of using various silicate agrominerals as sources of potassium and other nutrients, as well as soil conditioners in different farming scenarios.

Remineralization under discussion in Brazil.

However, notes Embrapa, due to particularities within studies involving natural sources and multi-nutrients and their interaction with Brazil’s complex productive systems, research information obtained so far is insufficient to recommend these sources as efficient on a practical timescale for agricultural purposes. Further, they add, logistically there are issues in terms of where the farming takes place and where the remineralizers (rock dust products) are located.

Embrapa says it is organizing itself into a collective, multidisciplinary and institutional way to provide a scientific position on the use of silicate agrominerals in Brazilian agriculture, the studies from which will provide technical evidence for or against the applicability of these minerals in farming.

In their letter in response to the recent policy clarification memo, the 150 scientists, PhD researchers, technicians, public service to liberal professionals state that Embrapa is disregarding the results of countless formal surveys conducted within the scope of Brazil’s best universities, and in partnership with international institutions.

The letter notes that teams have worked on research, in some cases, for more than 20 years, with representatives from the earth sciences (i.e., agronomy, geology, biology and chemistry), in addition to engineering, economics and law. Multidisciplinary research has delved into minerals and rocks, their chemical, physical and physio-chemical impacts biologically, biochemically and biophysically, as well as the complexity of agrobiodiversity.

Ignoring the scientific investigation capacity of these teams is concerning, if not unreasonable, say the letter’s authors. Numerous doctoral theses developed at different Brazilian universities have been written on this subject, in addition to multitudes of Masters dissertations and more than 100 scientific articles available online and elsewhere supporting the effective nature of remineralization.

Further, the letter adds, the works of three Brazilian researchers from renowned scientific centers have carried out research on soil remineralization, using different rock types in various conditions.

The “hasty disclosure” of the corporation’s memo ignores its own scientific journal’s coverage of regional agro-minerals for agricultural purposes, note the letter’s authors, who suggest so much research into this topic cannot be simply refuted without scientific proof, which the recent note fails to provide.

The letter has been submitted to the president of Embrapa, who shall now give an official response to the questions made by the group of over one hundred fifty scientists and specialists.

Researchers and participants at the III Brazilian Rochagem Congress.

Some might say that the Embrapa’s memo could be related to what has been happening inside the corporation during the last few years. There is, internally, a dispute amongst groups whose positions are contrary in regard to the very near future of Brazilian agriculture.

Despite the polemics, most of the scientists from the group have positive feelings about how Embrapa’s president will respond to their letter. They are certain that Embrapa, as the most important agricultural research institution of Brazil, will reconsider its position. Otherwise the company would be taking a step back as the Brazilian leading authority on the fertilization of tropical soils.

 Carter Haydu is a writer, reporter, and journalist based in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He works for JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group, with regular articles appearing in the Daily Oil Bulletin. He is a freelance columnist with the award-winning Quad Town Forum weekly newspaper, based in Vibank, Saskatchewan. He also contributes content for a series of magazines in and around Regina and Saskatoon. He received a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from Augustana University College in 2001 and a diploma in journalism from Grant Macewan College in 2005.

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