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NASA Harvest Partners Evaluate Soybean Expansion and Conservation Implications

Crop maps

Recently published in Nature Sustainability, a new study led by NASA Harvest partners at the University of Maryland (UMD) Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) research group details the exponential expansion of soybean planting in South America since the turn of the century. Agricultural expansion at this scale is determined to have significant implications for Earth’s environment, and analyzing these types of land use changes provides critical evidence for developing climate change mitigation policies. Drs. Matthew Hansen (UMD-GLAD) and Xiao-Peng Song (Texas Tech University) are joined by colleagues from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF), the University of Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires Grain Exchange (Bolsa de Cereales), and CONAB on their analysis of “Massive soybean expansion in South America since 2000 and implications for conservation.” With South America being home to many of the world’s major soybean exporting countries, the team explores the dynamics of historical commodity crop expansion in the region which is a major contributor to deforestation. Read the abstract below and visit Nature Sustainability for access to the full publication.



A prominent goal of policies mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss is to achieve zero deforestation in the global supply chain of key commodities, such as palm oil and soybean. However, the extent and dynamics of deforestation driven by commodity expansion are largely unknown. Here we mapped annual soybean expansion in South America between 2000 and 2019 by combining satellite observations and sample field data. From 2000 to 2019, the area cultivated with soybean more than doubled from 26.4 Mha to 55.1 Mha. Most soybean expansion occurred on pastures originally converted from natural vegetation for cattle production. The most rapid expansion occurred in the Brazilian Amazon, where soybean area increased more than tenfold, from 0.4 Mha to 4.6 Mha. Across the continent, 9% of forest loss was converted to soybean by 2016. Soybean-driven deforestation was concentrated at the active frontiers, nearly half located in the Brazilian Cerrado. Efforts to limit future deforestation must consider how soybean expansion may drive deforestation indirectly by displacing pasture or other land uses. Holistic approaches that track land use across all commodities coupled with vegetation monitoring are required to maintain critical ecosystem services.


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News Date
Sep 15, 2021
Mary Mitkish, Matt Hansen. Emma Minnis