Powerful and beautiful water

Brazil’s abundance of natural resources is astonishing. During this mission we have focused on row crops and ethanol made from sugarcane, but Brazil also gains renewable energy from the world’s most powerful dam – Itaipu Dam.

IMG_7851.JPGConstructed in 1984, the dam was built to be 18 times larger than the Hoover dam and the reservoir’s size is equal to the area of Chicago. Itaipu Dam is a bi-national enterprise undertaken by Brazil and Paraguay on the Paraná River, along the border between both countries. The power plant runs under the Itaipu treaty, a geopolitical compromise which created a company that is neither a state-controlled company nor a corporation. Everything, including where the staffers are from, is split evenly between the two countries.IMG_7885.JPG

We were surprised to learn that around 15 percent of Brazil’s energy and 80 percent of Paraquay’s energy is from the dam. In 2013 they reached the historic mark of 98,630,035 megawatt-hours generated, that would be enough to cover the entire worldwide consumption for two days.

Also located in Foz do Iquaçu are the Iquaçu Falls. Located on the Iquaçu River and 40 kilometers from the Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant, Iquaçu Falls contains the magnificent spectacle of 275 individual drops. They stretch almost two miles and reaches 269 feet high, making it taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide.




Full-cycle cooperative

Within the sea of corn, soybeans, cotton and sugar, we visited a small German family farm who also focused on growing beautiful orchids and baking the most delicious sweet treats.

Although we had breakfast only a few hours before, everyone enjoyed plenty of the wonderful cookies and bread bites.

The family started with 28 hectares and has grown to 100 hectares of corn, soybeans and wheat in addition to their nursery and bakery. The family chose to diversify their farm because profits from the traditional crops were not enough. After visiting large group farms, we were intrigued to learn about this farmer’s membership in Copagril, a cooperative founded in 1970 that helps its members in investment projects, technical support, and farming supplies.


Copagril is structured like any cooperative in Ohio; however, their focus on self-sufficiency and sustainability is quite interesting. Copagril has gathered 5,000 small farmer members who support the entire IMG_7760.JPGfood industry by starting with members who grow crops and members who use those crops to feed livestock. Copagril is a partner of a meat processing facility that harvests the members’ livestock which is then sold at the cooperative’s four supermarkets. They have 15 grain elevators located on the southern region   of Mato Grosso do Sul and the northeastern of Paraná state, with a total capacity for the storage of 276,000 tons.


Corporate to practical

Guest Author: Gene Baumgardner. Gene farms in Fayette County. He is on the Ohio Corn Checkoff Board.

On the road again at 6:30 a.m. with clothes in hand for a three-hour trip to EMBRAPA national research station in Mato Grosso Do Sul.  EMBRAPA is the national research network with 40 locations throughout the country.  Think OARDC Wooster but studying everything from cacao and cashew nuts in northern Brazil to wheat and chickens in southern Brazil.

IMG_7628Our visit was to see the work being done to integrate cattle grazing into soybean-corn-grass rotation.  Their main objectives included keeping the ground covered with vegetation year round, providing fodder for cattle in dry months when all the other grass is gone, and continually improving soil quality.  This program is designated as a priority by the government and is well-staffed and funded.

Lunch today was another buffet. I will have my fill of buffets, but the feature meat was fish so it was something different.

When we got back on the bus for another two hours, we finally found roads as I remember them on my previous two missions to Brazil: rough and impassable if it had been wet. During the drive we saw a cane transport in mud leaning drastically too close to the edge of the road.  But with the sun shining, we bounced our way to the sugar mill for a quick presentation from the company, Nuvo America.  The company has 24 mills, and this one is able to produce 3 million metric tons annually from farms within a 25-mile radius. With a flip of a switch, it can switch from sugar to ethanol production depending on prices. Although we could not tour the internal of the plant, everything looks new. Built in 2006, it looks more like an refinery than anything else.

After our presentation we had the opportunity to watch harvest in one field and planting in another. Harvesting and planting sugarcane is very much mechanized compared to 40 years ago. Virtually all hand work has been eliminated for harvesting cane, as the work is done from air conditioned cabs.IMG_7724.JPG The cane is cut, leaves removed, cut into short pieces and loaded into a tip cart and then loaded into tandem semi carts to be taken to the mill. Pulled by semi trucks that can be moved field to field, everyone has the government-required toilets and break room on the field. Water trucks run constantly to keep the dust in check.

Harvest is fairly mechanized but planting takes a lot of hand labor. After the field is leveled and terraced to control water, they cut 6-inch deep furrows on 50-inch centers to receive the cane that will be cut into foot long pieces. A plant can form at each leaf node. This cane is cut by hand and placed in furrows. Through the more rare times that planting is completed by machines, they still must employ lots of people to help.

There are really no comparisons from my missions 40 and 8 years ago. All of rural Brazil seems progressive and anxious for new technology. They are and will continue to be a favorable partner in the world agriculture sector.

Capturing the sun’s energy

IMG_7501.JPGOur first visit today was to FAMASUL, the Agriculture Federation of Mato Grosso do Sul. FAMASUL could be comparable to a state farm bureau as they represent the interests of farmers on general issues. Barrio Cachoeirra II of FAMASUL gave us a presentation about the competitiveness of Brazil’s agribusiness. We filtered through charts and graphs about each sectors of Brazil’s agricultural industry, learning first-hand about how the agribusiness industry supports Brazil through fairly stable, rapid growth in many areas of agriculture.



While visiting farms today, the common theme was clear: maximize the amount of energy (sunlight) you can capture. Land never sits idle. IMG_7534.JPG

The grain farm we visited today was about 3,000 acres and had only been in production for two years.  We watched as he harvested soybeans with three combines and across the red dirt driveway planted corn in the field he harvested yesterday. It was fascinating to learn that most of Brazil did not start double cropping until 1990. Although we have actually saw more on-farm storage than we thought we would, this young farm was storing their soybeans in bag until the two new grain bins by his shed were finished.

Working to diversity how he captures energy, the 3,000-head beef producer we visited had

The team felt right at home jumping in the bed of a few trucks to go check the cattle.

his farm on a cycle of three years of cattle pasturing on elephant grass and then a year of soybeans as first crop and corn as second crop. His beef-crops rotation is unique and progressive. His 500 hectare farm is currently outlined into 50-60 hectare pastures where he moves his cattle on a 7-day rotation. All of the fence posts will be pulled out when it’s time to plant soybeans and corn.

The state of Mato Grosso do Sul is currently changing to grains, ethanol (sugarcane), and eucalyptus production from beef cattle region due to land prices. It will be interesting to see how this young grain state looks in a few years.





Fields as far as you can see

Guest Author: Eric Neer
Eric farms in Champaign County. He is on the Ohio Corn Checkoff Board.

For our last day in the state of Mato Grasso, our group pulled together for a few new experiences!  After waking up and hearing that my roomie didn’t have hot water for a shower at the hotel, I crossed my fingers and hoped that the remainder of my day would be better than the first 15 minutes.  I was in luck!  I found a hot shower within the first few minutes and currently relax at the hotel after an eye opening day of visits.

Our day started out with our group loading the bus in Primavera do Leste, and driving west to Bom Futuro, a farm near Campo Verde.  The farm, whose name stands for Good Future, originated in the 1980’s as a partnership between four original members.  While we didn’t gather a good indication of their original scale, it was hard to believe that they currently farm over 1 million acres in several states.  With 5,300 employees, they grow soybeans, cotton,  eucalyptus trees (fuel source for dryer), and corn while also utilizing fish farms, cattle grazing, and hydroelectric energy to balance out their operation.

It was easy to feel the shift in scale as we drove past a paved air strip on our way to the farm’s movie theater for our introductions.  One of their many agronomists then provided a tour of the 225,000 acre farm in Campo Verde.  The 4.5 million bushel storage site was impressive.  Eleven combines prepping for soybean harvest in the same field was impressive.  It became evident that we would have a challenge trying to describe the scale and vastness of the opportunities to our friends in Ohio.

IMG_7461.JPGPicture yourself driving from Cincinnatti to Cleveland and finding nothing but gently rolling ground, fantastic soils, year around warmth, and acres upon acres of corn,  soybeans, and cotton.  Keep in mind you are on a two lane road and haven’t spotted a single house. Now imagine that those crops have the potential to increase yield by a factor up to 2x at any given moment.

This potential opportunity is the true indication that we better prepare for as farmers in Ohio.  While we strive to improve our own farming operations, we must also ask ourselves how we could adapt if world supply of corn increases at a faster pace than we traditionally expect.  As we look towards our future, let’s be sure to keep one eye on building demand, serving our customers, and helping nourish the world.



Farm County

A 4-hour bus ride took us deep into Mato Grosso today.  One look at the towns and it’s obvious you are in farm country.  It appears that if you aren’t a farmer,  you work for a business that supports farmers.

The crops are in the early stage of the second crop.  To our surprise we’ve seen virtually no soybeans (but we should tomorrow). Fields as far as we can see are filled with corn and cotton.  There is much more corn than we expected to see.  Corn has exploded in the last 5-8 years and, actually, it’s a little unsettling to see this many acres of corn planted when U.S. prices are so depressed.  Oceans of corn fields do not make you think the world supply of corn is going to shrink anytime soon.

IMG_7267.JPGIn this area of Brazil, corn is usually the third most profitable crop.  Soybeans are always the most profitable, followed by cotton. Wheat is not grown here but researchers are working to develop varieties suitable for this area.  Just like Ohio, Brazil seems to be very committed to a crop rotation to help break up disease cycles and improve soil health. YieldIng 90-100 bu/ac, corn is always the second crop and therefore has the less ideal growing weather. Corn is here to stay but it currently doesn’t get the bulk of their attention and investment. But even with low yields, the shear number of acres makes Brazil a real competitor for corn.

To the group’s enjoyment, we finally got to kick some tires today.  The farm we visited is a IMG_7270.JPG3,500 ac farm is in Primavera do Leste.  It’s not the largest farm we’ll see during our mission, but it still has a full-time staff of 8 with more added during the busy seasons. Father, daughter and son manage the farm, but they all live in town. The staff lives on the farm with their families in individual housing and singles in group housing.  One 18-inch row planter is used for beans and corn.  Laser straight rows indicate auto steering has arrived.  It wasn’t common a couple years ago.

We also visited an ag coop call Grupo AGP which functions much like our co-ops in Ohio.  Co-op members buy fertilizer, pesticides and services like precision ag which was just added in 2014.  What makes their coops different is they don’t buy grain from the members but they will accept grain as payment for the inputs and services.  Business has grown rapidly and they have a well defined pathway for future growth.

From the bus we saw wild emu grazing in the field just like turkeys in Ohio in groups of five to six, as well as a wild tapir just walking along.  It’s a beautiful country…and not a train track in sight.

Association and Sustainability

Guest Author: Rachael Vonderhaar
Rachael farms with her family in Preble County. She is on the Ohio Small Grains Checkoff Board.
March 15, 2016

As we start off on our 3-5 hour bus drive this morning (the wide time range due to rough infrastructure and heavy truck traffic) to tour Brazilian farms, I realize I have time to review my notes from the last couple of days.  Our days have been action packed and long which equals a migraine for Rachael.  I am doing much better now as I am able to read & type on the bumpiest roads I have ever been on.  I am definitely appreciating the air conditioning on the bus, thankful.

IMG_7209.JPGYesterday (March 14), we visited with Cid Sanches, Director of Aprosoja, Mato Grosso. Aprosoja is a soybean association formed in 2005 to unify the voices of the farmer to the federal government. Thirteen Brazilian states have Aprosoja Associations. Each state’s agriculture picture is so unique, it’s hard to find a unified national voice across all agriculture.

Soybeans are first crop here and corn is a second crop, which means, corn is planted behind the harvest of the soybeans. The growing season is long enough to raise and harvest two crops in one season in the same field following each other.  Sometimes cotton is grown as the second, or double, crop.

Cid mentioned several goals Aprosoja is working on for the farmers:IMG_7220

  1. Communication with the federal government
    1. Labor Laws
    2. Production Loss
    3. Regulations
    4. International policy
    5. Land use
    6. Biodiesel
    7. Infrastructure/ Transportation
  2. Educating Farmers
    1. Agronomy
    2. Farm Safety
    3. Profitability
  3. Coordinating Research

Comparatively to the U.S. Ag landscape, Approsoja is doing the work of our Checkoffs, The Ohio State University Extension, & farm associations/organizations like Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association.  Brazil has 22% of the worlds crop producing land and 12% of the worlds water, which is a lot of financial opportunity.  However, the lack of infrastructure holds the Brazilian agriculture sector from reaching its full potential.  Several groups, including the Chinese government, have tried to work with the Brazilian government to build railroad infrastructure to get crops to the ports more efficiently, but there is a current law that prevent any roads or rail from crossing state lines unless owned by the government. Brazil has partnered on public private partnerships in the past, but only when the government owns the final product. The Brazilian government has allowed several entities to explore rail construction options, but no progress has taken place. Conservation is also a big part of the conversation as to why the infrastructure is a challenge.

My take-aways:

  1. Aprosoja has a lot of work to do with such a large list of topics.
  2. I have a lot of respect for the Brazilian farmers and the patience they have for dealing with lack of infrastructure and government struggle (there were large protests/demonstrations that took place on Sunday demanding impeachment of the current President).

Marco Reis joined us this evening for a presentation and dinner.  Marco represents Alianca De Terra, a not-for-profit committed to working hand-in-hand with the Brazilian farmer and sustainability in three specific areas:

  1. Environment
    1. Conservation
    2. Fire Prevention / Fire Brigade
    3. Soil Health
  2. Social – native & indigenous people
    1. Sharing cattle genetics (Texas Christian University Project)
    2. Sharing agricultural practices
  3. Production
    1. Gathering information for research
    2. Profitability
    3. Traceability

IMG_7232Marco shared the story of John Carter moving to Brazil and starting his soybean farm in the wilderness of northern Mato Grosso. I am not sure I have the grit to make that kind of leap in life, but what an exciting adventure. The Brazilian government did a social outreach program giving 600 families 100 hectares each so they may start farming. Alianca De Terra helps to provide education about conservation to the new farmers.  They also work with RTRS (Round Table on Responsible Soy) which represents: the soy value chain, responsible soy production, and works with the European market on negotiations. Alianca De Terra is working hard to educate on the understanding the value of conservation & the long term value of “producing right”.   Brazil has strict restrictions on clearing of land for agriculture and the value of conservation.  Alianca De Terra helps to make sure all farmers are using good land stewardship practices. The most interesting detail of the night was that small scale ag in Brazil is in the most need for education on good stewardship practices.

Our presentation was followed with a buffet meal at a Brazilian steakhouse and a lot of good conversation and debate.

I am thankful to farm in United States.  I am thankful to farm in Ohio.  I am thankful for our infrastructure, and now even more driven to be vocal for maintaining it.  I am thankful for extension services, checkoffs, & commodity associations who divide and conquer agriculture obstacles we face everyday.  I am thankful for my opportunity to learn first-hand about Brazilian agriculture after reading about it for years in grain market reports.