Just before the height of Brazil's soybean harvest last March, a group of Americans — mostly farmers and mostly from Indiana — came to Brazil to check on the competition.
The trip was organized by the Indiana Soybean Board. I looked in on the group as they arrived — tired from the long flight, and, as they left, tired from tromping across fields all over the country.
I got to ask them some questions, one of which they answered after returning home. That question: “What did your neighbors most often ask about your trip?”
When Don Villwock returned to his 2,500-acre white corn, popcorn and seed soybean farm in southwestern Indiana, his neighbors wanted to know about Roundup Ready beans and what prices Brazilian farmers were paying for Roundup. “I thought we saw about 10-15% super-clean fields that looked as though they were (treated with) Roundup.”
It was definitely a learning trip for Villwock, vice president of the Indiana Farm Bureau and a former director of the Indiana Soybean Board. “I went because I wanted to see how soon the Brazilians would take over the soybean market,” he said.
Indiana Soybean Board director Karen Fear said her neighbors wanted to know about Brazilian “bean yields, transportation, future growth and land cost, which was very hard to understand and compare to our prices.”
David Asbridge, an agricultural economist who served as tour leader, gave up a family vacation to join the group. His neighbors mostly asked: “Why would you give up a cruise, get all those shots and travel in a bus for hours at a time?”
The trip was a return to old times for Jim and Sharon Howell, who were last in Brazil 25 years ago. “The technology was a little more advanced than I anticipated,” said Sharon. “Given economic and political stability, Brazil will surely be a strong competitor to the U.S. for the foreseeable future.” The Howells farm about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans in central Indiana.
Tour leader Asbridge, who has made several trips to South American soybean fields over the years, always had a pretty good idea of how competitive Brazilian soybeans are. “What struck me was the way they overcame those horrible roads to continue to farm out in Mato Grosso state. After visiting the terminus of the ‘soybean railroad’ in Alto Taquarí, it was sobering to think how far they have come in terms of advancing their infrastructure.”
Indiana Soybean Board director Fear told me she really didn't have a formed opinion about the Brazilian people before she traveled. That changed. “The people were friendly and nice to visit. They were always dressed nicely. The young people dressed a lot nicer than the ones here at home,” she said. “It was hard to believe how modern the cities are, and how the farms have modern farming practices. But the infrastructure in the country is way behind.”
The best part of the trip? “Visiting the beaches in Rio de Janeiro,” said Ray Hughes, a retired soybean and corn producer from Sorento, IL.
“My major conclusion in contrasting soybean producers in Brazil and the U.S.,” said Jim Howell, “was that one speaks Portuguese and the other English.”