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Iowan eyes Brazil’s ag challenges

By Staff | Feb 29, 2012

Bill Horan, a Knierim-area producer, returned Sunday from a 10-day visit in Brazil. It was his fourth trip there.

By LARRY KERSHNER

Farm News news editor

FORT DODGE – Freshly returned from his fourth visit to Brazil, Bill Horan, a Knierim-area producer, said the Brazilians are gearing up to be an ag powerhouse, once that country develops its infrastructure to get farm products to major markets and shipping points.

Horan spent 10 days in Brazil with Bill Northey, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Kee, Delaware’s secretary of ag, plus farmers from both states, from Feb. 15 to Feb. 25.

Horan said he was surprised at a few things he had not seen on his previous three visits. These include what Horan described as “a full-court press public relations campaign to convince the world Brazil is not cutting down rainforests;” is concerned over McDonald’s marketing that it is not using Brazilian beef; and moving toward more technology and mechanization.

“We won’t put them out of business and they won’t put us out of business. And both of us are dependent on China.” —Bill Northey Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

It’s this last issue that grabbed Horan’s attention.

The U.S. delegation learned, Horan said, that all Brazilian employers, whether the work is ag related or not, hire as many as four people for one job, because the government has mandated that after an eight-hour work day, a laborer must have 36 hours off before starting another eight-hour day.

“People in Brazil are required to vote,” Horan said. “And laborers are the voting power.” He said the government is trying to ease the life of the laborers, as well as keep as many people employed in rural communities “and keep them from moving to the cities.”

As a result, according to Horan, farm employers must house and feed their workers, even during the 36-hour layoff, and provide for health care, which drives up the cost of farm production.

“That’s a significant cost,” Horan said, adding that Brazil is moving more toward technology and mechanization to replace workers.

Northey said it was a natural development “by making it tough to have employees, (farm managers) will go to mechanization.”

He said managers are planning on using more herbicides, than manual labor for weed control, and bigger equipment for working fields.

One sugar mill the delegation visited, Northey said, is going to mechanized harvesting, and likely find other work for laborers.

Horan said if the Brazilian farming community moves fully into higher technology and mechanization, while improving infrastructure, the country could grow into a larger farming entity than it already is.

Northey said he and Kee scheduled the trip as a personal learning experiences, not as official department business..

“Neither one of us had been to Brazil before,”?Northey said. “It was all ag,” he said, meeting with farmers, ag businesses and ag industries.

Twenty farmers from both states also made the trip.

Telling the world

Horan said Brazilian farmers are taking a page from U.S. farmers’ public relations playbook in telling the world that they’ve been cast in an unfair light – that the ag industry is not destroying its rainforests, and that it will not converting any more acres into farm land than it has currently.

Horan said Brazilians told the delegation that non-government organizations, especially those in Europe, have cast farmers there as destroyers of rainforests.

“They have satellite data they use to document they have not destroyed rainforests,” Horan said.

In other measures farmers there are enrolling their farms in a program to document size to prove they are not expanding acres for row crops.

Northey said he does not expect any additional ag acreage created in Brazil, at least in the foreseeable future.

He said government environmental requirement, mandate any new acreage, must have 25 percent of additional land setaside as protected from development.

“I don’t see them set up for expansion,”?Northey said, “They’ll learn to do more with the land.”

Northey said the consensus is that “we won’t them out of business and they won’t put us out of business.

“And both of us are dependant on China.”

As a result, Horan said he was told the McDonald’s decision to not use Brazilian beef, and marketing that fact to its customers, has cattle producers and farmers in general concerned.

“McDonald’s doesn’t want any of its products associated with Brazilian farming,” Horan said.

Horan said the country’s roads and shipping facilities are slowing improving, “while ours are deteriorating.”

He said Brazil has scaled back its ethanol production. Plants are milling more sugar 80 percent of production — than biofuels, because the sugar market is more lucrative than ethanol.

However, Brazil has mandated ethanol use, intending to become energy independent, so that country is importing U.S. ethanol.

The U.S. has a huge over-supply, since the renewable fuels standard mandates a specific production amount annually. However, due to a growing gasoline shortage, and with most ethanol blends still at 10 percent, this country has hit what Farm News columnist David Kruse describes as “the blenders wall.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453 or kersh@farm-news.com.

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