It's hard to believe that the first of our soybeans will already be harvested by March 15. It seems like yesterday I was talking about getting ready to plant. As always, time seems to go faster than the progress, which involves the never-ending projects and farm management in a tropical climate. However, all in all, this season has been pretty smooth.
We haven't really had any major rain events where it rained continuously for 10-15 days like is common in Bahia. We've had nice timely rains followed by five to eight days of sunshine. It's been a near-perfect growing season thus far, but we need the good weather to continue until April 20 or so, to ensure all of our cotton has the proper moisture needed to fill the bolls, and that any later-planted soybeans don't run out of juice until harvesttime.
Five years ago, the major battle and worry of all farmers in Bahia, and Brazil for that matter, was Asian soybean rust. Many were unsure which fungicides worked to combat the plant-destroying disease or how to properly manage it. I think it's safe to say that 99% of all producers now have solid plans in place to manage the disease with proper treatments. However, we have a new problem with soybeans: white mold. It's becoming a serious issue and the cure is not as easy as a fungicide treatment. Because of it, some farmers are rethinking future crops.
A VAST MAJORITY of farmers plant soybeans after soybeans, year after year. Crop rotation is not as prevalent in Brazil as it is in the U.S. for a few different reasons.
Most farmers plant beans because they are cheap to plant and easiest to manage.
Cotton is very costly per acre — nearly three times the cost of soybeans — and management is probably six times more intensive.
Raising corn, which you can't forward sell to attempt to lock in profits, is a crapshoot on making money.
These reasons put a large majority of farmers in continuous beans and that's where a lot of the problems are coming from. White mold is tough to manage, is deadly to the plant and spreads very easily. This is a recipe for disaster just waiting for the perfect year. Producers try to control outbreaks with fungicides but everybody has different opinions on what works and what doesn't. However, the best control is crop rotation or planting shorter soybean varieties (from normal 130 days down to 105) to lessen the amount of time to manage the plant during its growing cycle.
Overall, the crop in Brazil this year appears to be very big; most are saying the second largest on record. And Argentina is having a great year as well, so what does that say about the outlook of commodity prices over the next several months? It is tough to say.
Most U.S. producers don't believe the USDA numbers when they are reported, regardless of whether it's acres planted or final bushels harvested. So putting a lot of faith in Brazil's information, which is probably three times less accurate than USDA's, is not a wise idea when it comes to marketing.
Instead, I urge producers to understand their operational costs, set profitability goals that are realistic and contain price targets; then focus on the fun part — farming.
Next in a series from Iowa farmer Tyler Bruch, Global Ag Investments, whose firm farms about 32,000 acres in Brazil and 40,000 acres in Ukraine.