Jose Barros Franca Neto has a lot on his plate. His day job as a soybean researcher for the National Center for Soybean Research, in the southeastern state of Parana, keeps him busy. And then there's his gig as chief energy source for Abrassoja, the Brazilian soybean producers association, which he is doing his utmost to get off the ground.
It had been a year since I last talked to Franca. At that time, Abrassoja had just been voted into existence, and a governing board set up. So I called him to see what sort of progress the group has made over the last 12 months.
Franca was more focused on the coming year than on the one just passed. "We haven't taken off the way I would have liked," he says. For one thing, the group's aim is to become self-funded, like the American Soybean Association (ASA) and United Soybean Board (USB) in the U.S.
For now, though, "We're still dependent on a few corporate sponsors," says Franca.
That is all about to change, he adds. The Abrassoja board just met and established its long-term goals. Among them: attract dues-paying soybean farmer members in order to become a producer-driven association. In the U.S., says Franca, about 8% of all soybean producers are members of ASA. "We set a goal of 10% of Brazil's 243,000 soybean producers joining as members," he says.
Planning is one thing; achieving it is another. Franca says the group will begin reaching out to producers, explaining the association and its goals, at a large soybean event in the northwestern Brazil state of Mato Grosso. A U.S. researcher has been invited to give an overview of how USB and ASA are structured, he says. And Abrassoja will put up a stand at the event, answering questions and explaining the group's goals.
A longer-term goal is to set up a national checkoff, of 11/42 of 1% of the net value of soybeans, at the first point of purchase. If this sort of checkoff had been in place for last year's harvest, it would have produced about R$45 million (U.S. $25 million) for research and marketing efforts, both in Brazil and abroad.
Franca says that Brazil, unlike the U.S., has no set of laws in place to serve as the basis for a U.S.-style checkoff. But initial probes with rural legislators, on interest in helping establish checkoff legislation, have been "very positive," he adds.
At this point, though, the group can lay claim only to less lofty achievements than membership and a checkoff. They have "set up the association's structure," says Franca, and directors have drawn up their goals.
The group wants to level the playing field in terms of subsidies, he adds, either by setting up a price floor mechanism like the marketing loan concept in the U.S., or convincing competitors that it's better if there were no such price supports in place at all.
Meanwhile, the group needs to communicate Brazil's environmental stewardship to the world. According to Franca, many people think Brazilians are ripping out rain forest in order to plant soybeans. "That's just not true," he says.
For the past year, it is true that Abrassoja has not appeared to be a hub of activity. The group issued a news release lashing out at USB for claiming that up to 30% of Brazilian soybeans are genetically modified despite a nationwide ban on commercial planting of the product. But, aside from that, Abrassoja was hardly in the news.
"But call me a year from now," says Franca. "I will have a lot of news to tell you."