A comprehensive assessment of agriculture in lowlands of south Brazil: characterization and comparison of current and alternative concepts

Giovani Theisen

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Agriculture in the lowlands of south Brazil is of strategic importance at the national level, since it supplies around 80% of the rice consumed by the Brazilian population. In Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil, three million hectares of lowlands are ready for grain-based agriculture. Of this area, about half is fallow, partly used for cattle grazing, and irrigated rice is the predominant crop, cultivated annually on 1.1 million ha. The remaining area is used for soybean and other crops. The predominant cropping system is a combination of irrigated rice and cattle. Over the last decades, rice yields have steadily increased, but this rise in yield level has to a large extent been obtained at the expense of a continuously higher use of external inputs. The recent introduction of soybean in rotation with rice has partially improved the system, but in most areas the situation is becoming incompatible with the modern demands for sustainability. This thesis presents a long-term study (2006-2015) of five cropping systems for lowlands. Next to monocrop rice and two rice-soybean rotations conducted in either conventional or minimum tillage, the experiment contained two novel systems based on large ridges, on which soybean and maize were combined with either cover crops or crop-livestock integration in winter. In these last systems, 8-m-wide ridges were built to avoid flooding, thus allowing for diversification of cash crops and the cultivation of cover crops or pastures in winter time, as well as the use of no-tillage. All systems were evaluated at process-level, including soil preparation, seeding, plant nutrition, pest management, irrigation, harvesting, transport and cattle management, as well as regarding their performance for the different dimensions of sustainability, particularly environment, land productivity, economics, energy-use and labour. Next to system assessment, two additional experiments were conducted for the evaluation of two specific technologies for soil management in these areas. Crop livestock integration on the ridge-based system offered the best balance between food production, environmental impact and economics. This system is well suited to be used in fields that are kept fallow, thereby enlarging the agricultural productivity of the lowlands. The additional experiments revealed that a knife-roller can successfully substitute plough-and-harrow for soil preparation after rice harvest, and that germination of weed seeds can be reduced if crop seeding is conducted at a lower speed or using a no-tillage seeder equipped with an improved cutting mechanism. Overall the results show that by using alternative cropping systems that allow for diversification and new methods of field management it is possible to simultaneously attain a larger agricultural production and improved sustainability in the lowlands.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Anten, Niels, Promotor
  • Bastiaans, Lammert, Co-promotor
Award date18 Oct 2017
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463436380
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • cropping systems
  • farming systems
  • crop management
  • lowland areas
  • wetlands
  • pampas
  • brazil
  • intensification
  • sustainability
  • productivity
  • indicators
  • soil management
  • rice
  • flooded rice
  • oryza sativa
  • maize
  • zea mays
  • glycine max
  • cover crops
  • livestock
  • rotation
  • mixed farming
  • seedbed preparation
  • farm machinery

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