Why Is There Still So Little Irrigation in Brazil?

“…by combining drip systems and pivots, farmers are able to irrigate 100% of the area, with significant operational gains…”

Ricardo Almeida is the CEO of Netafim Brazil and Mercosur, graduated in agronomy from the Federal University of Pelotas, with an MBA in marketing from Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing and an MBA in finance from Fundação Getúlio Vargas.

Ricardo Almeida, the CEO of Netafim

AgriBrasilis – Why is there so little irrigation in Brazil? And in the case of precision irrigation, what is the adoption by farmers?

Ricardo Almeida – For 30 years, Brazilian farmers needed to prioritize investments in infrastructure, storage, logistics and machinery, which established a basis for them to professionalize their operations. During this period, irrigation was not a priority.

Today, with the basics established, with high land prices and the farmer’s need to differentiate themselves to remain in the market, irrigation “fits in” with the current situation, in which it is necessary to verticalize production, neutralize the effects of climate and optimize the use of resources, providing plants with exactly what they need at the time and quantity.

Another relevant fact is the unequal distribution of rainfall, a fact that is increasingly evident, as well as more intense weather phenomena, such as El Niño, which put agricultural production at risk.

AgriBrasilis – What is the growth potential of the irrigated area in the country?

Ricardo Almeida – Today, Brazil has approximately 8 million hectares irrigated by the most diverse methods. What we see is that, in the 2000s, 100 thousand new irrigated hectares were incorporated per year, in 2022, this number has already reached 400 thousand new hectares. Following the trend, Brazil has the potential to irrigate 20 million hectares in the next 20 years.

“Brazil and Argentina stand out, mainly because there is an “ocean of opportunities” of land with high irrigation potential”

AgriBrasilis – How much does the Mercosur irrigation market generate annually? Which countries stand out the most and why?

Ricardo Almeida – Irrigated agriculture has a very strong penetration in Latin America in general, especially in countries that suffer from water shortage, such as Chile and Peru, which are those with the highest percentage of irrigated areas.

Brazil and Argentina stand out, mainly because there is an “ocean of opportunities” of land with high irrigation potential.

AgriBrasilis – How can precision irrigation be applied to large crops?

Ricardo Almeida – Localized irrigation is a democratic technology. We have solutions that cater to small farmers, who do not always have electricity, with a “Family Irrigation Kit” which works only with gravity, to large farmers with properties covering thousands of hectares.

For large crops, especially grain and fiber crops, the underground dripping technique was developed, which allows harmonization with central pivots (the method historically most adopted by this group of farmers). Thus, by combining dripping and pivots, the farmers can irrigate 100% of the area, with significant operational gains, from planting to harvesting.

AgriBrasilis – What are “subscription irrigation” projects and how do they work?

Ricardo Almeida – The “subscription irrigation” modality is an option for farmers and companies that need to convert CAPEX (capital expenditure) into OPEX (operational expenditure), so it is not necessary to acquire an irrigation system to have access to all the benefits generated by them.

In this model, Netafim designs, installs, operates and maintains the property’s irrigation system through a subscription, without the need for large initial investments.

Agribrasilis – What is Netafim’s revenue?

Ricardo Almeida – Since 2018, 80% of Netafim’s global operation was acquired by Orbia, a Mexican holding company that operates in several segments, from polymer solutions to construction. In 2022, the Orbia group’s revenue was around US$ 9.6 billion, with Netafim representing 11% globally.

AgriBrasilis – In the last two years, Brazil has become the main market for Netafim. What motivates this performance? What investments are planned?

Ricardo Almeida – Brazil in itself is already a country with conditions more than conducive to irrigation, with water availability, a favorable climate, and arable land. Furthermore, it is one of the countries that have responded very positively to the stimulus for increasingly profitable and sustainable agriculture, numbers that have reflected in the last 20 years a 4-fold increase in the number of new irrigated hectares, from 100 thousand per year to 400 thousand per year.

Based on market demand and response, we had the possibility of more than doubling our size from 2020 to now, and as the next steps we have an investment of around US$ 6 million just for the grain and fiber irrigation market through next 30 months.

In addition, we have an additional US$ 2 million to optimize retail operations, aiming to expand our production and logistics capacity, partner network and access to irrigation solutions in Brazil.



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