Editor’s Note: During the early stages of harvest in South America (Jan. 26-Feb. 11), a group of U.S. producers toured the greater agricultural regions of Brazil and Argentina. Allen Cummins, who has farmed most of his life and has 20 years of experience as a farm manager in Lafayette, IN, agreed to share his experiences as he traveled on this trip. His viewpoints offer wonderful insight into our global competitors in the Southern Hemisphere. We are grateful for Allen’s detailed perspectives and provide them for you in full text format.
TOUR FOR 2002: For travel information regarding South American tours for 2002, information is a click or call away. Link to the Kristensen International Travel and Tours (KITT) Web site at www.kitt-travel.com/Soybean2.htm for information on the 2001 tour and contacts for 2002. Or call KITT direct at 1-800-635-5488 and ask for Hans Kristensen or Betina Kohler.
Diary of Argentina and Brazil, Soybean Growers Tour
January 26 – February 11, 2001
Note: Two primary problems occurred in obtaining accurate technical and numerical information; the 1st was the translation from Spanish or Portuguese to English, and the 2nd was converting from metric to the U.S. measure. As we traveled through various parts of Argentina and Brazil, we had different interpreters at the local stops. Some were more competent in translating technical agriculture information than others. For instance, they would sometimes say such things as 10 thousands when they meant 100,000. On one occasion, while on the bus after a visit to farm, it took over 20 minutes to get the estimated corn yield converted from kilos or tons per hectare to bushels per acre. However, as we got further into the trip and we began to hear the same answers from different interpreters, we usually felt like we had the right information. In our early discussions, we had some difficulty getting answers on answers that we could rely on - such as price of land per acre, yields per acre, cost of certain inputs per acre, costs of labor, taxes, miles to terminals, costs per ton or per bushel for transportation, etc. I believe the numerical information presented below is reasonably accurate. However, I’m not willing to bet the farm on it.
- This was a fantastic trip! I think I have seen enough soybeans to last me for a long time. If the young U.S. farmers could afford to go on a tour such as this, I’d highly recommend it. They need to see who is their real competition. If they think their competition is their neighbor who keeps bidding up the cash rent, think again. It’s the boys in Argentina and Brazil. The reason soybeans prices are poor is the huge, beautiful crop we saw in both countries.
- Most of the farmers and businesses and government officials have e-mail and access to the Internet. They have access to commodity, weather and financial, and agricultural information the same as any U.S. farmer.
- Transportation of farm commodities from the farm to the terminal is more difficult and costly than in the U.S. Transportation costs are higher than U.S.
- Their main highways are similar and as good as ours. However, once you leave the main highways, every road is dirt. The roads are solid and will handle heavy trucks, but the trucks have to drive far and slow from the fields or farms to get to the paved highways.
- Labor is cheap. Most tractor drivers and laborers are paid $200 to $400 per month. Thus, we saw labor being substituted for capital and equipment in some cases. Farm equipment sizes are smaller than the typical U.S. farm. They drive more planters and combines with cheaper and more laborers.
- They fertilize and test for pH about like we do.
- They have a lot of the same insect and weed problems that we have.
- Practically all crop acreage is no-tilled.
- Chemical prices were considerably lower than U.S.
- Argentina farmers were using Roundup seed from their bins.
- Inflation is not a major problem in either country.
- We felt safe waking any of the streets in the interior cities about anytime of the day.
- Most of the cars are much smaller than U.S. because of the high price for fuel.
- Argentina and Brazilian farmers and their officials do not like the U.S. government subsidies.
- It would be a grave mistake to go back to set-aside acreage reductions in the United States because Argentina and Brazil would greatly benefit. They would increase production and total supplies would not be reduced. I think they would be happy if we implemented some acreage reduction program because it would also benefit them.
- If the signage in Argentina were English, I would have thought I was in some parts of the U.S.
- The top-notch farmers in both countries are just as good at production as U.S. farmers.
- We are in a truly global market.
- One can purchase and clear soybean-producing land for $500 to $700 per acre. Before a person considers the purchase, he should be just as prudent as he would be in the U.S. Soil types vary; there are reputable and not so reputable Brokers ready to help you invest. I think I would want to live there through the planting and harvesting seasons before I'd put any money in their land.
- Prior to the trip, I was quite concerned that we would be infected with malaria if bitten by a mosquito. There is no malaria in the areas we traveled. I only saw two mosquitoes and I would not have noticed those if I had not being looking for them. One needs to travel about 400 kilometers north of Cuiaba before you start to enter the rainforest. And even then, the locals said we needed to go deep into the jungle before the likelihood of contacting the disease. Based on our doctor’s recommendation and before traveling, we got yellow fever shots, hepatitis A & B, and updated tetanus shots. You should contact your physician for his advice on other medicines to take with you.
- If you travel to these countries, get a metric conversion chart off the Internet and print in on an 8" x 11" paper. Take a small pocket calculator. Get a list of important words in Spanish and Portuguese, such as thank you, good morning, ice, no ice, water, no gas, how much, etc.
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For 2002 Travel Plans to South America see: www.kitt-travel.com