As you read this, I should be in Brazil with a group of about 25 farmers from across the country. This will be the fourth time I've had the privilege to travel with U.S. farmers and ranchers who are inquisitive about just what makes Brazil such a powerhouse.
In the past, our producer travelers have been blown away by the sheer size of the cropping operations, especially in the newer northern growing areas of Mato Grosso. By contrast, in the southern area where farms are much smaller, it's a wonder they can make enough money to live.
The entire trip is designed to provide U.S. producers the opportunity to see first-hand what they've read about in many farm magazines. In the past, I think farmers have almost expected to see an arrogant, land-hungry and aggressive group of farmers chiseling out their stake against the real ag powerhouse, the U.S.
What they usually walk away with is a sense of how tough it is to persevere in that country and how genuinely friendly the people are they meet.
Sure, Brazil's farmers have been quick to adopt many of the agronomic practices that have taken years to perfect here in the U.S. But by paying attention to the Brazilian competition, American farmers and industry have taken a more competitive approach to their ag operations, too.
At this time last year, for example, there was almost a fever spreading across the U.S. from farmers worried about getting Asian soybean rust. Talk to the experts and that threat continues to loom this year, too. However, if it weren't for all we've learned from the Brazilians about rust, we'd probably be in a heap of trouble. Apparently, the information exchange does work both ways.
Last year, especially, I know of several groups of university and USDA experts — and farmers — who traveled to Brazil to learn everything they could about this disease. They came back with knowledge about how to identify rust, how and when to spray, and even what type of fungicides to use at what plant growth stages.
The point is that farmers and researchers in Brazil welcomed the U.S. with open arms, ready to share anything they knew about the disease they've been fighting for five years. I'm sure we're all thankful they were so forthright.
Now, once again as we travel through the rural areas of Brazil, it will be interesting to see the mood of their farmers. Will they be as friendly and free to share information even though they're experiencing much higher production costs and no government safety net?
Reportedly, there are 5-10%, or about 1.4 million, fewer acres planted to soybeans in Brazil this year, fertilizer costs are 20% higher than last year and fertilizer sales are down in some areas as much as 35%. The same is true for herbicides and fungicides, where some reports say farmers there are deep in debt and sales have dropped by 20%.
Like here, costs for fuel have skyrocketed in Brazil. And when you live thousands of miles from ports and have poor or nonexistent roadways, like many of the big Brazilian farmers do, the cost of shipping inputs has jumped significantly.
So after visiting this country a few times and seeing mostly booming operations and positive farmers, this trip could be a little different. Still, if farmers are farmers, I'm guessing we'll detect a quiet optimism and hear plenty of: “There's always next year.”
Conservation Tillage Conference
Remember Feb. 1-2 are the dates for the Conservation Tillage Conference and Expo at the Ramkota in Sioux Falls, SD.
For more information, go to: www.tillageconference.com or call 800-722-5334, ext. 14698.