Three out of every four hectares irrigated by center pivot are planted with soybeans followed by second-crop co

Access the main highlights on Irrigation from Collection 7

Satellite mapping of crops irrigated by pivots, flooding and other irrigation systems shows that these areas almost quadrupled between 1985 and 2021, from 804,000 hectares in 1985 to 3.29 million hectares in 2021. The data also shows a change in the type of irrigation most used. In 1985, around 84% of the irrigated area mapped in Brazil was flood irrigated. By 2021, this percentage had fallen to 44%. The area irrigated by center pivot, on the other hand, went from 8% in 1985 to 50% in 2021. Since flooding is basically used for rice, the advance of pivots suggests the expansion of irrigation to other crops, notably soybeans: 76% of pivot areas are planted with this legume.

Mapping irrigation systems using satellite images is complex and the technologies available do not yet allow all the irrigated areas in Brazil to be identified. For this reason, MapBiomas focuses on systems that are also mapped by other institutions, such as the National Water and Sanitation Agency (ANA), in order to baseline the results. The more conservative approach does not reduce the breadth of the mapping, which was able to identify irrigated crops in the South, Southeast, Midwest and Northeast regions of Brazil.

"The data leaves no doubt that many producers have embraced crop irrigation as a solution to guarantee water security during cultivation," explains Bernardo Rudorff, Mapbiomas' irrigation mapping coordinator. "They also indicate that producers in the Cerrado, a biome that has a shorter rainfall cycle in certain regions for growing more than one crop, have embraced it more," he points out. 

Together, the states of Minas Gerais, Goiás and Bahia account for almost two thirds (64%) of the area mapped by center pivot irrigation in Brazil. A third of the total (31%) is in Minas Gerais, the state with the largest irrigation area over the 37 years assessed by MapBiomas. In 2021, the irrigated area in Minas Gerais was 509,133 thousand hectares, equivalent to three times the size of São Paulo.

The five states in Brazil with the largest expansions in center pivot irrigation areas between 1985 and 2021 were Maranhão, Goiás, Distrito Federal, Bahia and Mato Grosso. The last four showed an expansion of between 51 and 53 times in 37 years. In the case of Maranhão, however, the expansion was 286 times - a clear reflection of agricultural expansion in Matopiba. 

MapBiomas identified 26 large pivot irrigation regions in the country, the largest of which is in western Bahia: around 180,000 hectares, which represents a 14.5-fold increase compared to the area mapped in 1985.   

Other irrigation systems have only been mapped in Brazil's semi-arid region. In this region, the Petrolina / Juazeiro hub had the largest area in 2021, with around 70,000 hectares - a 4.5-fold increase in 37 years.

Flood irrigation is used predominantly for rice, and the largest areas with flooded rice are in the south of the country. In this region, the Quaraí / Ibicuí / Icamaquã hub, in Rio Grande do Sul, had the largest area, with more than 450,000 hectares - a 2-fold increase between 1985 and 2021. Outside the southern region, the Javaés / Formoso Hub, in the state of Tocantins, showed the greatest growth in irrigated rice area: around 1.7 times in 37 years, reaching an area of 100,000 hectares in 2021.