The value of improved pastures to Brazilian beef production
, Sanzio C. Barrios
, Cacilda B. do Valle
, Rosangela M. Simeão
and Geovani F. Alves
Embrapa Beef Cattle, Embrapa, Rua Radio Maia, 830, 79106-550, Campo Grande, MS, Brazil.
Corresponding author. Email: email@example.com
Abstract. Brazil is an agricultural country, with 190 Mha of pastures sustaining 209 million cattle. Fewer than 10% of the
cattle are fattened in feedlots, whereas cattle reared on pastures have a competitive advantage for export, eliminating the risks
presented by the mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and considerations related to animal welfare. Brazil
has been the world’s largest exporter of beef since 2004 and has the largest commercial herd in the world. In 2011, 16.5% of its
production was exported, and the livestock sector contributed 30.4% of the gross national product from agribusiness and
6.73% of the total GNP. Many forage breeding programs, mainly at Embrapa, have contributed to the development of
improved pastures, and cultivars of Brachiaria brizantha,B. decumbens,B. humidicola and Panicum maximum are the main
pastures used in the country. All have apomictic reproduction, which means there are few cultivars occupying very large,
continuous areas, thus suggesting a risk to the productive system. Such is the case of B. brizantha cv. Marandu, which
occupies around 50 Mha. The Brazilian tropical forage seed industry is also important, and Brazil is the main seed exporter,
supplying all Latin American countries. Due to pasture degradation, around 8 Mha is renovated or recovered each year.
Forages are also used and planted each year in integrated crop–livestock and integrated crop–livestock–forest systems.
Nowadays, these systems occupy 4 Mha. Improved pastures are thus a major asset in Brazil not only for the beef production
chain but also for the dairy industry.
Additional keywords: forage cultivars, germplasm, selection.
Received 7 September 2013, accepted 13 December 2013, published online 11 March 2014
Brazil is essentially an agricultural country with 190 Mha of
pastures, 74 Mha native and 116 Mha cultivated (ANUALPEC
2008). Pasture area equals the sum of agricultural, forest and
wooded areas (IBGE 2010). The vast pasture area and cattle herd
places Brazil as the largest or second-largest producer of beef in
the world, competing only with the United States. In 2012, Brazil
produced 9.4~Mt carcass weight equivalent. Since 2004, the
country has been the world’s largest beef exporter, with
1.69~Mt carcass weight equivalent of beef exported in 2012
(ABIEC 2013). Brazil exports fresh meat to 92 countries, mainly
Russia (27%), Egypt (14%) and Hong Kong (11%); processed
meat to 106 countries, mainly the European Union (49%) and the
United States (16%); and bovine offal and other cuts to 71
countries, mainly Hong Kong (64%) and Angola (4%)
Brazil’s cattle herd is 209 million heads (IBGE 2010), the
largest commercial cattle herd in the world; much of the
production is for the domestic market, and only 18% of
the production was for export in 2012. Most cattle are raised
on pastures, observing animal welfare conditions, and only
10% of the slaughter in 2012 was of animals ﬁnished in
feedlots (ABIEC 2013). This confers a differentiation on
Brazilian beef, avoiding risks associated with bovine
The total area of grassland in the country is 190 Mha: 74Mha
native pastures, 99 Mha planted to Brachiaria spp., and 17 Mha
planted to cultivars of other species (ANUALPEC 2008).
Brachiaria spp. represent a large area (85%) of cultivated
pastures in the country; B. brizantha cv. Marandu Palisade
grass, released by Embrapa in 1984, still occupies a large area
(~50 Mha) and is considered the world’s largest monoculture
in terms of area. According to non-ofﬁcial technical surveys, it
is estimated that the country renews and/or recovers ~8 Mha
of pasture every year, ~80% of which is with cultivars of
Brachiaria. In addition, grasses are planted on ~4 Mha for
crop and livestock integrated cattle systems, or crop, livestock
and forest systems (José 2012).
Economic, social and environmental beneﬁts
from improved forages
Other competitive advantages of Brazilian beef are the
production costs, which are lower than in other countries,
allowing Brazil to be a major player in the international meat
market. Despite an increase in production costs in recent years,
for beef cattle of both high- and low-input technologies and for
feedlots, mainly due to the high costs of fertilisers, labour
and machinery, etc. (Torres 2012), the beef industry generates
revenues of US$50~billion and employs ~7.5 million Brazilians.
In 2011, the livestock sector contributed with 30.4% of the gross
Journal compilation CSIRO 2014 www.publish.csiro.au/journals/cp
Crop & Pasture Science
national product (GNP) of Brazilian agribusiness and
contributed with 6.73% of the Brazilian GNP (CEPEA 2011).
This highlights the economic and social importance of this sector
for the country.
Brazilian meat, mostly produced on pasture, has been
constantly but incorrectly labelled in the international media as
the primary source of deforestation, among other factors. In fact,
the area occupied by livestock has decreased in recent years
while productivity has increased. According to data from the
agricultural census of 1995 and 2006 (IBGE 2006), Brazil lost
17.6 Mha of pasture. In the same period, the areas of grain (ﬁrst
crop) and sugarcane increased 10.5 Mha. In addition, the
annual rate of deforestation in the Legal Amazon is constantly
decreasing. In 2012, 84% less area was deforested than the rate
recorded in 2004, according to a survey by the National Institute
for Space Research (INPE 2012). By contrast, the number of
head of Brazilian cattle grew 22% in the period 2001–11, a
signiﬁcant gain in productivity of Brazilian cattle. In 2001, for
example, productivity was 38.4 kg carcass weight/ha.year,
whereas in 2010 it was 53.9 kg carcass weight/ha.year. These
data clearly demonstrate that it is possible for Brazil to produce
more meat and milk, with less area and more sustainably.
Brazil has signiﬁcant natural resources (such as climate, land
and water) to maintain production, and many technologies well
adapted to our production system. However, an essential action
to maintain the sustainability of the livestock sector and increase
productivity gains is investment in the recovery of degraded
pastures. This is a great challenge from now on, since ~47%
of pastures have some degree of deterioration (Nogueira and
Aguiar 2013). Among governmental actions implemented to
encourage the recovery of degraded pastures is the ABC
program (Program for Reducing Emission of Greenhouse
Gases in Agriculture), with the goal to provide funds to
farmers to adopt technologies to protect the soil, increase
productivity and mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases.
Among the goals stipulated in the ABC program is the
recovery of 15 Mha of degraded pastures and establishment of
4 Mha in crop–livestock–forest systems (CNA 2012).
The Brazilian forage seed market in 2011 had a turnover
of around US$600 million, which is equivalent to 2.5% of the
global seed market and still has potential for expansion (José
Of the total seed production of the main tropical forages,
Brachiaria ssp. and P. maximum accounted for 83.8% and
13.5%, respectively, of the total seed production area in
2011–12 (Table 1), and for 99% of the revenue, respectively.
These data demonstrate that much of the industry’s revenue
comes from the marketing of seed of these two genera. Other
genera of tropical forages of economic importance (Andropogon,
Stylosanthes) have a small seed market share. There are no
statistics on the area covered by each pasture species in Brazil.
The only available information is from a survey done by a private
consultancy ﬁrm and published in Nogueira (2012), in which
52 000 km
of pasture area in Brazil was covered and the pasture
genera recorded. The result was that 68.2% of the pasture area is
covered by cultivars of B. brizantha, 9.1% by other Brachiaria
species (B. decumbens,ruziziensis and humidicola), 10.2% by
P. maximum, 5.8% by Andropogon gayanus, 5.8% by other
species, and 0.8% by native pastures.
Brazil is also the largest exporter of tropical forage seed in the
world, with the main destinations in Latin America (especially
Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela), Africa and Asia. Brachiaria
spp. are the most requested species, representing >80% of the
total volume exported in 2010. Brachiaria brizantha cv. Marandu
and B. decumbens cv. Basilisk accounted for more than half of
Table 1. Seed production area in 201–12, mean price of seeds in 2012, and quantity of seeds exported in
2010 of the main tropical forage cultivars
Source: UNIPASTO, pers. comm.
Species Cultivar Area (ha) Price (R$/kg) Export
Brachiaria decumbens Basilisk 12 706 18.00 917 575 24.90
Brachiaria ruziziensis Kennedy 7295 13.00 210 0.01
Brachiaria humidicola Common 25 747 85.00 324 184 8.80
Brachiaria humidicola Llanero 5330 45.00 100 224 2.72
Brachiaria brizantha Marandu 55 688 14.00 1 259 128 34.17
Brachiaria brizantha Xaraés 10 697 19.00 413 894 11.23
Brachiaria brizantha BRS Piatã 6385 19.00 50 920 1.38
Brachiaria brizantha MG-4 1820 19.00 ––
Mulato II 1548 40.00 ––
Panicum maximum Momba¸ca 12 616 30.00 378 512 10.27
Panicum maximum Tanzânia 2912 30.00 216 870 5.88
Panicum maximum Massai 4819 60.00 18 350 0.50
Panicum maximum Aruana 77 50.00 3410 0.09
Andropogon gayanus Planaltina 2294 25.00 –0.25
Stylosanthes spp. Campo Grande 1838 9.00 256 0.01
Cajanus cajan Mandarim –– 1290 0.04
Calopogonium mucunoides Common –– 460 0.01
Total 151 772 3 685 283 100.00
Interspeciﬁc hybrid B. brizantha B. ruziziensis B. decumbens.
BCrop & Pasture Science L. Jank et al.
the volume exported in 2010 (Table 1). Of the released cultivars,
P. maximum cv. Tanzânia and cv. Massai and Cajanus cajan cv.
Mandarim have increased their exports in 2010 compared
In the past, Brazil always imported or introduced new
ecotypes collected in Africa or cultivars developed abroad, in
an attempt to increase carrying capacity of the pastures and
thus ncrease animal productivity. However, the accidental
introduction of Guinea grass Panicum maximum cv. Colonião
via slave-trading in the 19th Century was advantageous to the
Brazilian beef industry, not only because it resulted in greater
animal productivity, but also because it allowed for the rapid
establishment of pastures by seeds and by aeroplane in the north
of the country.
Statistics from 1940 show that ~2.56 ha was necessary for each
head of cattle. Between 1968 and 1972, Brazil imported large
amount of seeds of Brachiaria decumbens cv. Basilisk from
Australia stimulated by government programs to encourage the
formation of pastures. This ecotype was originally from Uganda
and was registered in Australia in 1973 (Oram 1990). Due to its
great adaptability to poor, acid soils, ease of propagation by
seeds, good competitive advantage against weeds, and good
animal performance compared with native grasslands, this
cultivar rapidly covered large expanses of areas in the
Brazilian Cerrados (savannas) and became a monoculture.
This cultivar was the ﬁrst crop that was planted in the
Brazilian Cerrados, which then became Brazil’s grain
warehouse, and it also contributed to a great decrease in area
of pasture needed per head (Fig. 1). However, problems such as
spittlebug susceptibility, photosensitivity especially in weaning
calves, overgrazing and lack of fertilisation led to extensive
areas of degraded pastures.
In 1984, B. brizantha cv. Marandu, an earlier introduction, was
released (Nunes et al.1984). This cultivar was much more
productive than cv. Basilisk and was resistant to spittlebugs. It
gradually replaced B. decumbens, and in turn became the new
monoculture, which continues today, covering ~50 Mha.
In the 1980s, Brazil received its ﬁrst apomictic forage
collection, Panicum maximum, which was extensively
collected at its site of origin in Africa (Savidan et al.1989).
Evaluation of this collection led to the release of P. maximum cvv.
Tanzânia and Momba¸ca after 1990, which resulted in great
pasture intensiﬁcation in the country due to very high
productivity and quality of these cultivars. They were rapidly
adopted by farmers, and the use of this species is widespread
today. All of these cultivars resulted in increased grazing
efﬁciency, and in 2006, only 1.1 ha was necessary per head.
These carrying capacities are mean values for the country,
considering both rainy and dry seasons; under improved
management, considerably higher carrying capacities are
The P. maximum collection was introduced to the country as
a result of two expeditions organised by the French Institut de
Recherche pour le Développment (IRD) exclusively for the
collection of this species, which gathered >380 apomictic
accessions and 23 sexual plants. This collection and accessions
received from other research institutions worldwide were
transferred to Embrapa in 1984 in a cooperative agreement.
The second expedition, organised exclusively for the
collection of an apomictic species, was organised by the
International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and
gathered ~800 accessions of 23 species in 1984–85. Embrapa
later received part of this collection.
The main breeding programs under way in Brazil are at
Embrapa Centers. However, a few other breeding program
have been developed in Brazil in the universities, mainly at
Rio Grande do Sul State, or Research Institutes as the Instituto
de Zootecnia and Instituto Agronômico de Campinas in São
Fig. 1. Number of hectares per head of cattle in Brazil. (Source:
Fig. 2. Embrapa Research Centers that hold forage germplasm banks
and/or develop forage breeding programs. 1, Embrapa Acre; 2, Embrapa
Beef Cattle; 3, Embrapa Cerrados; 4, Embrapa Coastal Tablelands; 5,
Embrapa Dairy Cattle; 6, Embrapa Mid-North; 7, Embrapa Pantanal; 8,
Embrapa South Animal Husbandry and Sheep; 9, Embrapa South-east
Livestock; 10, Embrapa Temperate Agriculture; 11, Embrapa Tropical
Value of improved pastures to Brazilian beef production Crop & Pasture Science C
Paulo State. However, at the Federal University of Rio Grande do
Sul, the focus is breeding cool-season forages; the Instituto de
Zootecnia only evaluates bred cultivars for other institutions; and
Instituto Agronômico de Campinas discontinued its program.
Thus, the main breeding programs are at Embrapa.
Nowadays, CIAT is providing some selected bred cultivars to
undergo animal grazing experiments in Brazil, through a
cooperative agreement with Dow AgroSciences LLC, with the
objective of saturating the Brazilian market with new Brachiaria
hybrids. To date, cv. Mulato II has been released, but the area
sown is still small (Table 1).
Embrapa also holds the main germplasm banks in the country
(Fig. 2). Embrapa Beef Cattle holds the germplasm banks of
Brachiaria spp., P. maximum and Stylosanthes spp. and is
responsible for the breeding programs of three species of
Brachiaria (B. brizantha,B. decumbens and B. humidicola),
P. maximum and Stylosanthes spp. (mainly S. capitata and
S. macrocephala). Embrapa Cerrados is responsible for the
breeding of A. gayanus and S. guianensis. Embrapa Dairy
Cattle holds the germplasm banks of Pennisetum spp. and
Cynodon spp. and is responsible for their breeding and for
breeding of B. ruziziensis. Embrapa Acre holds the germplasm
bank of the forage peanut Arachis spp. (A. pintoi,A. repens and
A. glabrata). Embrapa South-east Livestock holds the germplasm
bank of Paspalum spp. and Cajanus and is responsible for their
breeding. Other germplasm banks within Embrapa are also
available and organised, e.g. buffel grass (Pennisetum ciliare)
germplasm at Embrapa Tropical Semiarid and various regional
banks at Embrapa Pantanal, Embrapa Cerrados, Embrapa Mid-
North and Embrapa Coastal Tablelands. Cool-season forages
have their germplasm bank at Embrapa South Animal Husbandry
& Sheep. This Center also holds the breeding program for lucerne
(alfafa) (Medicago sativa). Embrapa Temperate Agriculture
holds the germplasm of ryegrass (Lolium multiﬂorum), and is
responsible for its breeding.
With research on selection and breeding of forages since the
early 1980s, Embrapa and partners have formed a solid
foundation for the development of new cultivars, which is
crucial for obtaining new genotypes, since all cultivars
currently available have limitations subject to improvement
through breeding (Miles 2007; do Valle et al. 2009).
The development of tropical forage cultivars is a process
whereby several steps must be fulﬁlled in order to reach a
superior genotype, which is a candidate for a new cultivar.
To exemplify this process, we will use as an example the
development of a cultivar of a tetraploid, apomictic forage
grass (Brachiaria and/or P. maximum) (Fig. 3). The process
begins with the availability of the germplasm and its
characterisation for reproductive mode, ploidy level, genetic
diversity, and gene search among others. The apomictic
(tetraploid) accessions are evaluated in small plots, while the
sexual (diploid) accessions must undergo chromosome doubling
so they can be crossed with apomictic genotypes in order to obtain
hybrids. Doubled sexual plants (tetraploid) are then used as
female parents in crosses with apomictic accessions (reciprocal
recurrent selection, RRS, and direct crosses between superior
sexual plants and elite apomictic accessions) or inter-crossed
to improve the sexual population (intra-population recurrent
selection, IRS). In the case of hybrid breeding (RRS),
improvement of the sexual population (IRS), and direct
crosses, populations of up to 2000 hybrids are obtained in
each case and the most vigorous apomictic hybrids move to
the next stage.
In Stage I, the most vigorous accessions from the germplasm
or the best hybrids (100–200 genotypes) are evaluated under
a cutting regime in more detail, now considering a larger set
of characters (biotic and abiotic stresses, seed production,
response to nutrients, etc.) not evaluated in the previous stage.
The selected 20–25 genotypes follow to the next stage—
regional trials—Stage II, in which the performance of the
genotypes is evaluated under different harvests in different
locations in order to determine their performance in different
environmental conditions (to identify genotypes with broad
adaptation and/or speciﬁc to certain conditions). The
genotypes selected in this stage, i.e. a reduced number of
genotypes (1–3) are then evaluated in larger experiments under
grazing (Stage III) to determine animal performance (individual
and per area weight gain or milk yield). Once superior
genotypes are identiﬁed, they are registered and protected, a
marketing plan is made, and they are later released as cultivars
The stages in Fig. 3take at least 2 years each, and adding
1 year for seed multiplication between each stage, the whole
process takes 8–10 years. Once the process has begun, there are
always genotypes in various stages of evaluation, which
becomes a production line, with releases in short, medium and
long terms, in response to new limitations in the existing cultivars
(do Valle et al. 2009). Considering the whole process, it is clear
that the focus of the breeding program in the initial stage is to
obtain new genotypes, in the intermediate stage is selection, and
in the ﬁnal stage is the recommendation for release of previously
selected superior genotypes. The number of genotypes under
evaluation decreases as the stages continue, from a large number
of genotypes with highly variable performance to a small number
of genotypes with superior performance (elite) for all the traits
under improvement. As the stages progress, there is also an
increase in interdisciplinary collaboration, where several
professionals (entomologists, plant pathologists, specialists in
seed technology, fertility, pasture management, technology
transfer) are inserted in order to reach a common goal, which is
the release of a new cultivar (Fig. 4).
Brachiaria spp. and P. maximum breeding programs,
which have a history of releasing cultivars compared with
other forage genera, are undergoing a paradigm shift. Until
now, the primary method of obtaining new cultivars was the
selection of superior apomictic accessions directly from the
germplasm banks, which is a ﬁnite process in terms of
identifying superior genotypes from the pool. Recently,
improvement strategies were adopted in order to obtain
superior hybrids (Fig. 3), thus making the whole system more
efﬁcient and inﬁnite.
The development of new forage cultivars now may also
proﬁt from the use of biotechnology to provide accuracy and
agility to support breeding programs, through the identiﬁcation
of hybrids, the search for molecular markers linked to apomixis,
DCrop & Pasture Science L. Jank et al.
resistance to spittlebugs, tolerance to poor soil drainage,
drought, shading, cold, aluminium toxicity in the soil and
resistance to seed shattering. The genome-wide selection
strategy (Genome Wide Selection) should be adopted in the
medium/long term in order to help cultivar development
programs to be more efﬁcient. More research is necessary for
this to become a reality.
Genetic improvement of tropical forages is a very recent activity
compared with the improvement of grain crops such as soybeans
and corn, or temperate forages, for example. Nevertheless,
signiﬁcant progress has been achieved in the research and
development of cultivars (do Valle et al. 2009; Jank et al.
2011). Regarding the main forage grasses (Brachiaria spp. and
P. maximum), the efforts of the breeding programs at Embrapa
resulted in the release of B. brizantha cvv. Xaraés (2003), BRS
Piatã (2007) and BRS Paiaguás (2013); B. humidicola cv. BRS
Tupi (2012); and P. maximum cvv. Tanzania (1990), Momba¸ca
(1993), Massai (2000) and BRS Zuri (2014). Releases of
other genera include pigeonpea Cajanus cajan cv. BRS
Mandarim (2009); Paspalum atratum cv. Pojuca (2000);
Production, seeds, nutritive, biotic (pests,
diseases) and abiotic stresses (Al, flooding),
response to nutrients
New cultivar Release & Adoption
Registry & Protection
Fig. 3. General breeding scheme of the stages and number of genotypes involved in the development of
a cultivar of tropical forage grass (tetraploid apomictic). (Diagram by Sanzio Carvalho Lima Barrios.)
Objectives of the breeding program
Number of genotypes
Fig. 4. Integrated graph of the elements (components) involved in the
stages of development of tropical forages. (Diagram by Sanzio Carvalho
Value of improved pastures to Brazilian beef production Crop & Pasture Science E
cultivars of vegetatively propagated Pennisetum spp.—cvv.
Pioneiro (1996), BRS Canará (2012) and dwarf BRS Kurumi
(2012); and Stylosanthes cv. BRS Campo Grande (2000). Forage
peanut Arachis pintoi cv. BRS Mandobi was registered in 2008,
protected in 2011, and it is expected to be released in 2014. Cool-
season grasses released by Embrapa are Sorghum sudanense BRS
Estribeiro (2013) and ryegrass BRS Ponteio (2010). CIAT
released B. brizantha cv. Mulato II in 2005, but its area of use
is still small.
Embrapa varieties have a signiﬁcant participation in the
domestic market of tropical pasture seed (market share); the
share was 78% in 2011–12 and it is certain to continue as
the programs have matured and activities in the several
programs have intensiﬁed.
The social balance of Embrapa, carried out every year to
evaluate the impact of the technologies developed on the
performance of the agricultural sector, showed that in 2012
B. brizantha cvv. Marandu and BRS Piatã, P. maximum cvv.
Tanzania and Momba¸ca, and Stylosanthes cv. Campo Grande
contributed with >64% of the economic impact (increased
productivity) of the entire Embrapa program (Embrapa 2013).
Projections for the future
In the near future, world population is expected to increase
signiﬁcantly. It is estimated that by 2050 the world will have 9
billion people. With this scenario, a signiﬁcant increase in the
production of protein (meat and milk) will be needed. Brazil has
the largest commercial cattle herd in the world and numerous
opportunities to increase productivity and hence proﬁtability
without opening new areas to cultivated pasture. According to
projections of agribusiness, described in Outlook Brazil 2022
(FIESP/ICONE 2012), exports of beef, which accounted for
16.5% of the Brazilian production in 2011, will increase to 23%
in 2022, being an important inﬂuence on growth in this sector.
In fact, beef export in 2012 already increased to 18% (ABIEC
2013). Increases in productivity and greater production
efﬁciency should increase animal production without
requiring a signiﬁcant increase in the number of head or
pasture area. To meet the projected demand and maintain the
growth, the Brazilian cattle herd should increase to 227 million
head by 2022, signifying a growth rate of 0.4% per year
between 2012 and 2022. If the same stocking rate as in 2010
were to be maintained, 197.8 Mha of pasture would be required.
However, the projection for pasture area in 2022 is of
176.3 Mha. It should be possible to produce more meat and
milk while reducing the area required by 21.4 Mha, through
production intensiﬁcation with better forages, better
management and integrated crop–livestock–forage systems.
The use of more productive and better quality pastures
implies more efﬁcient breeding methodologies and tools,
dynamic breeding programs and efﬁcient technology transfer
resulting in progressively better meat and milk production from
The authors acknowledge the Association for the Promotion of Research in
Forage Breeding (Unipasto) for kindly providing the technical information on
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