In 2016, Uruguay made firm efforts to explore the possibility of exporting non-GMO soy to China, said Montes.
The following year, five varieties of non-GMO soy arrived from China. The National Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA) assessed their quality, protein and oil levels, aiming to then grow them and sell them back to China.
More money for distinguished products
Due to its size, Uruguay cannot compete with the volume of soy produced by Argentina, Paraguay or Brazil. So the government hopes Uruguayan soy will stand out for its quality.
Sergio Ceretta, director of INIA’s Dry Land Cultivation Program, said: “We are putting a lot of emphasis on quality and characteristics. We want to target the soybean market for human food in China, beyond what we sell to them today.”
Some markets are willing to pay more depending on production methods. Uruguay is paying attention to market signals in order to produce what the world demands and might be willing to pay a premium for, Benech said.
Ceretta believes China may be willing to pay more. Yet prices are still uncertain for non-GMO compared to the more heavily-traded GMO variety.
Wasps, soy and agrochemicals
Producers looking to profit from this premium are now using “biological controls” to combat pests rather than chemical pesticides.
Uruguay has experimented with these biological controls since the beginning of the 20th century. Insects were introduced from abroad to act as natural predators, mostly in a controlled way so as to not alter the local ecosystem.
the year chemical pesticides were introduced in Uruguay
However, with the emergence of chemical insecticides in 1940, the development of natural pest controls was almost entirely put on hold.
César Basso, a professor at the University of Uruguay, investigated using a small wasp less than half a millimetre in size to control a larva that affects sugar cane. That same species of wasp is used today for soy pest control.