What are you doing here?” “No, what are you doing here?”

That's likely what you hear when two people run into each other at some unusual, remote place. Try Brazil.

Last month, on a Soybean Digest tour of Brazil, I walked into a special agricultural federation dinner reception with our 30 travelers. We were greeted not only by the local ag officials, but also by a crew of North Carolina soybean growers. Yep, they were also on a tour of the ever-growing soybean — and corn — acres of Brazil.

Jack Trumbo, a Kentucky soybean grower, greeted me as I entered. I then met several others traveling on his 17-person tour. I even got to meet Earl Hendrix from Raeford, NC, someone I'd recently interviewed by phone, but had never met face to face.

Our group had no idea this group would be there. They, however, had been given a heads up about us.

We'd just come from the state of Mato Grosso, a northern and newest soybean growing area, and were moving south to Mato Grosso do Sul. They'd taken an opposite route, traveling from southern Brazil to the north. It was good to see some other weary travelers and to swap stories about how Brazil appears to be continuing its march to lead world soybean production.

But raising beans in Brazil is not all roses — not by a long shot. Here are some observations from our two-week trek through some of the most magnificent soybean fields I've ever seen:

  • Farmers pay taxes that, in total, amount to 32% of their income.

  • At every juncture, infrastructure (roads, rails and rivers) is the limiting factor and therefore gets top priority.

  • All private land requires a 20% (50% in some regions) ecological preserve. Farmers can't derive any income from that eco area. Fee hunting, fishing and lumbering are not allowed.

  • Farm owners are employee-focused. They match monthly salaries with payments to the government to cover retirement and other social benefits. Many even pay overtime. So even though labor is cheap, it's not a steal.

  • Across the board, government officials and organizations are embracing American investments.

So, while interest in Brazil abounds, push your pencil long and hard before deciding to invest there. There could be profits yet to be had, but with development running at full speed, land costs are rising. And if you add those costs to the equation, the picture dims.

In the next issue, I'll let you know what impressions U.S. farmers have on the world's soybean powerhouse, and recap some tour highlights.