Friday, 30 March 2012

March 28 - Brasilia

Woke up in Brasilia - the political capital of Brazil, much like what Canberra is to Australia. The capital used to be in Rio de Janeiro until a decision in the 1960’s to construct a purpose built city. World famous architect Oscar Niemeyer who was “inspired by the curves of a woman's body,” designed a collection of attractive buildings. Brasilia is neat and tidy, modern and captivating. The capital is home to 2 million Brazilians.
We boarded our bus for a 5 day trek towards San Paulo where our Brazilian adventure concludes. The first stop today is Goitas Savannah to inspect a large scale horticulture property.This business specializes in large production of carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, plus grains such as soya beans, corn, edible beans and wheat. This photo is of a carrot packing plant.

This business supplies a high percentage of the federal capital’s needs but does export some lines in some years. They have established their own tissue culture lab to propagate their garlic and potato seed requirements. 

This photo show irrigation method for onions.

Some of their production yields are 60t/ha for potatoes (this photo) and up to 20 t/ha on garlic.

This property owns/rents around 12,000 ha and has 26 pivot irrigation systems. 20% of the farm has been set aside for native vegetation purposes. More than 500,000 native trees have been planted.

Young soya bean seedlings.

Next stop was another large horticulture farm. This place grows soya bean, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes and pumpkins. This visit really spelled out how incredibly productive this country is. For example the climate is suitable for production of all these major crops all year round.  This photo - tomatoes.
With 1500 mm plus rainfall there is enough soil moisture to grow 2 crops on the same land per year. When irrigation is available, yield increase is significant and some farmers who use careful crop rotations can get as many as 3 crops from the same ground in a year. Amazing!!!  This photo - soya beans.
At this farm we looked at soya bean which was ready for harvest. Alongside was soya bean at flowering stage and alongside this, newly emerged soya bean. This allows for a staggered harvest and product supply advantages. The same staggered planting times were being applied for the tomatoes.
Special note about Soya bean.
Soya bean is a super food it contains 40% protein and 20% oil. It is used for human consumption and commonly used in livestock feed. Regardless of the country we have visited, it seems to be widely adapted to a range of climates and most favoured by farmers.
I was surprised to see lots of Eucalypt wood lots. These trees seem to have adapted particularly well, thriving in this high rainfall environment. The farm manager informed our group that a stand of trees which were approx. 15-20 metres high planted at thick density was only 5 years old. These eucalypts are harvested, wood chipped and used for industry eg. heat for grain drying.
A film crew from national Brazilian TV plus print media, followed us for the day. I was interviewed.
Our journey continued for several more hours until we lodged at Cristalina for the night.

March 27 - Ethanol

All vehicles in Brazil have had their engines modified to use 85% ethanol/15% petrol mix (Australia has 7-10% ethanol content I think). Today we visited an ethanol production plant. This facility is geared up to use sugar cane and sorghum to produce ethanol.
The sugar cane is pressed once for juice for production of sugar. The remaining juice and plant residue is converted for ethanol production. Sugar cane is the preferrred option for ethanol production but when not in season, specially bred sorghum varieties with a high sugar/brix level are used to ensure the ethanol plant runs all year round. The plant we visited was considered a small plant. We were informed there are another 455 medium - large ethanol producing plants in Brazil.
The sugar cane scholar travelling with us gave some background on the Australian cane industry. Apparently we have only one ethanol production plant because we seem to have a strong reliance on oil based fuels and there is no government mandate to increase the ethanol content in our fuel supply. Even though ethanol would result in less omissions than oil based fuels. This is a complex subject but it does seem surprising that we are not utilizing our waste bio-mass product to produce ethanol, such as the example in Brazil. In the afternoon/evening we flew to Brasilia, the political capital of Brazil.

March 26 - Irrigation

We visited the University campus UNESP - Sao Paulo state. Here we learned about irrigation in Brazil. Wild rivers supply unimaginable quantities of flood water. Already there is 4.5 million ha of irrigation happening and future expansion capacity to take this irrigation area up to 30 million hectares. To put this in perspective, Brazil could increase its irrigation area by 130,000 ha per annum for the next 200 years before it would reach its capacity of 30 million hectares. This is just working on surface water alone without taking into consideration the underground water source.
Last year alone Brazil introduced new irrigation to 160,000 ha. My home district of the Riverland has around 30,000ha and shrinking. Brazil has the full gamut of farming scale from small family operations to medium sized, to very large scale farming enterprises. So what is driving irrigation expansion? Most of the farming country is far from full production - generally unimproved pastures running beef or dairy. In recent years a combination of large foreign investment and local farmers have been encouraged to add irrigation to increase productivity. There seems to be large expansion in the areas of dairy and sugar cane production.
We went to visit the Ilha Solteira Hydro-electric Plant on the Parana River. This plant is huge with 20 large turbines geerating 3500MW from an 1100 square km dam. This is enough energy to power a city of 10 million. We were allowed a special inspection of the internal infrastructure within the concrete structure. This is where a large maintenance team keeps the electro and turbine system operating. This is Brazil's third largest hydro-electric plant.
This is a view of transformers leading from the Baran River - about 3km wide.
800 metres of internal structure within the hydro-electric plant.
One of 20 turbines.
Meeting with some of the local uni agricultural students who were interested in hearing about our Aussie farming practices.
In the afternoon we visited a large farming enterprise which lot feeds 32,000 head of beef cattle. They grow all their own feed including corn, soyabean and silage. At the time of visiting, the farm had an empty feedlot (seasonal management strategy) but was busy harvesting silage and soyabean for commencement of the new cattle intake season.
We travelled back to Sao Jose do Rio. In the evening we met with local farmers and had a valuable exchange of information and ideas. In general, farmers are progressive and looking to adopt innovation to increase productivity. There is strong government support to assist in management systems - such as a mobile pregnancy testing and AI unit for dairy and beef herds which is offered free to small farmers.

All of us scholars were blown away with the reception we received, with more than 100 farmers ready to hear our story and quiz us on our management practices, yields, prices etc. Even a television crew filming our exchange for broadcasting on national Brazilian TV. Heaps of fun and good food!!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

March 25 - Beef, coffee, dairy

After a hard day of travel before, we ended up in Sao Jose do Rio Preto which is in the central south of Brazil - 500km inland from Rio de Janeiro. This is a city of approx 11 million.
Our first visit was to a small family farm where innovative farming methods are being introduced. This enterprise only has 120 hectares but supports 3 families comfortably. Some beef cattle and coffee however the main point of difference is they have added irrigation to the local 1700mm of rain which falls in the wet season of approx 4 months. This increases pasture feed, therefore milk production. This photo shows fully grown dairy cows at the end of the wet season in incredibly tall grass.
We cut some cattle pasture and within 30 minutes it had grown about 1 cm!
This enterprise has also upgraded cattle genetics and improved pastures. There is a government based support system which assists small scale farmers to improve productivity. This farm is used as a showcase/training property to promote national producivity increase.
Brazil still imports most of its milk requirements. We visited another 2 small family farms, mostly dairy. These farms have in my opinion, a very appealing lifestyle characterized by large family involvement on small scale farms. It is common for farms of approx 100 ha to support 3-4 family groups.
Land is so productive, having 1500-1800mm of rain in the wet season. These people are able to make a comparatively good income, running around 120 cows, some beef cattle and some sugar cane or coffee.They also seem to be largely self sufficient with chickens, pigs and a bounty of tropical fruit and veg. People are well dressed and have good quality vehicles and machinery.   This is a photo of a farming family who hosted us.
We then drove a couple hours to check into our hotel in Santa Fee do Sulk. This photo shows a rural Brazilian street scene.

March 24 - Travel to Brazil

Travelled to Brazil via Chile. Flew into Sao Paulo - loooooong day!!

March 23 - R&R day in Mexico City

Mexio City is huge with lots of poor people but also lots of beautiful buildings and statues. It was ruled by the Spanish for 300 years until the uprising so this is very evident in the architecture.

This photo is a street scene - playing for money.

The old part of the city is built on swamp and many old buildings are moving. It is very noticable. One old church we entered which was built in the 1500's had a floor that sloped about a foot towards one end. Many of the terrifc old buildings are expected to collapse within the next 100 years.

City square and old cathedral.

The old cathedral in the city centre is an incredible building. Its interior is decked out in religious works of art, paintings, statues and gold leaf and has a very strong sense of spirituality. As we entered the courtyard, glass panels in the pathways allowed us to look through and gain an understanding of the past. The grounds surrounding the cathedral foundations were used as burial sites and we could see human remains thought to be from human sacrificial rituals.

Old part of Mexico.
In 1790 the Aztec sun calendar stone was discovered buried 19 metres beneath the ground at the base of the cathedral. We also visited part of the national museum and could see artifacts from this ancient culture. Many had been carved from heavy stone so have been well preserved through the centuries. In ancient times human sacrifice was practised as a gift to the gods to maintain continuity of good bountiful seasons. This next photo shows a sacrifice stone.

Now its time to leave Mexico behind and fly onto our next destination Brazil. This will be the last country for our scholarship group to visit.

Friday, 23 March 2012

March 22 - Mexico

Our schedule for the morning was to tour around some of the irrigated farms. 
We started with a visit of the major grain silos in Obregon. Here we learnt how they grade the truck loads of wheat and inspected the facility including the roof top view looking over the city of Obregon.
In this photo we are hearing about wheat receivals.

Here I am on top of a 35 metre silo overlooking Obregon.
 Overlooking Obregon
 Wheat silos
We then drove around looking at various crops including cereals, orange orchards and pecan nut plantations. The farm houses are very vibrant places with lots of different fruit trees and vegetables and quite often chickens, dogs cats and horses. Really interesting. Just about everywhere we went, we saw bougainvillea flowering.

Labourers picking vegetables
Orange orchard.
We are just about to head to the Obregon airport for a flight to Mexico City where we will spend a night and day before heading to Brazil. There have been major earth quakes in Mexico City during the past few days including a 7.3 which destroyed some 1000 houses. Just heard via local press that there have been another 4 more quakes so far today. Needless to say we are hoping for an uneventful stop over!


Thursday, 22 March 2012

March 21 - AOASS Obregon

First up today we attended the offices of AOASS in Obregon which is a farmer foundation based organisation which works with a great deal of co-operation. This way the interests of farmers are very well supported, particularly in areas of water/irrigation rights, marketing of product, and supply of seed, fertilizer, insurance, financial services, grain storage etc. Our main area of focus was to gain an understanding into the water resource and how irrigation supply and distribution is managed in the Yaqui Valley.
To set the scene, Obregon like most of Mexico is hot and dry with little rain. There are no major river systems with a limitless water source, instead there is a minor mountain range which acts as a catchment for rainfall. These mountains shed their rainfall into 3 dams which then supply the Yaqui and Mayo valleys - a total of about 136,000 ha. Mostly wheat is grown but also corn, vegetables, peas, safflower, table grapes and citrus. In 2003 and 2004 a drought created much hardship and plans were implemented to sink wells into underground aquifers to supplement surface water. Last year and again this year, less than desirable rain has fallen in the mountains and resources are being tested. These people understand the value of water and are acutely aware of their dependence upon it. Their very existence relies on these water reserves. So how is this extremely valuable water resource managed? Here are my observations.
Canal that services irrigation community
The first thing to be aware of is the water in storage is owned by Government. They charge (low rates) to the farmer owned water delivery company for use of this water, and they in turn recover this charge plus some, to the end users which are farmers, industry and some urban use. Water is run within 2 major open but lined canals each approx 120 km long with lots of service off takes to supply farmers.

In 2004 the farmer based group came together to plan and implement a co-ordinated strategy to sink 330 wells (bores) throughout the valley. This water is injected into the canals or direct on farms depending on location. This created an opportunity to install a modern irrigation infastructure system. A hydro-electric scheme was installed to generate electricity from the flow out of the dam. 
Strong Catholic Jesus overlooking dam

Master control panel

What really impressed me was the level of technical merit that their new systems incorpated. In fact I have never seen a more advanced and logical design. Studies have determined the amount of recharge on the underground aquifers  so when the wells were installed, sensors were attached on all 330 to provide real time data on the aquifer levels to ensure fantastic monitoring of this precious resource.

A strict and disciplined policy is adopted to ensure over-extraction does not occur. All the data that is collected and relayed back to a master control panel which is manned 24 hours every day. This master control panel operates each and every well on demand as required. Each well is equipped with a camera and microphone for a visual. The motors/pumps have oil sensors on them to allow the control panel to check oil levels and monitor temperatures. The wells are fenced and detectors are alerted if there are intruders within the compound. There is a large master map of the valley hanging on the control room wall with lights to indicate which wells are running at any one time. Lots of data of individual pumping volumes is streamed in and recorded. Really impressive!!!.
Reminds me of country around Glendambo
To summarize, the evolution of this water-challenged irrigation district has created opportunity to mitigate risks associated with water scarcity - as was the case for these people in the 2003/4 drought - and low surface water storages will return. However they have determined recharge volumes for their underground water which allows them to adopt sustainable extraction levels and be assured of this reserve into the future. There are of course still risk elements and challenges ahead. For example, a city to the north which is outside the valley now wants water from the dams to supply their growing population.  Lobbying of Government is taking place for access to this resource. Perhaps desalination may assist in future supply for these growing coastal cities.

For anyone who is involved or interested in the practise of water management I can recommend the above scheme as one that is certainly worthy of following. I can provide contact details should anyone want more information or an introduction.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

March 20 - Obregon

Obregon is a city of about 500,000 population. A mostly summer rainfall of 300 mm. This time of year the weather is mild with a maximum of 26 and minumum of 12. It does get hot in summer with mid 40’s.
Obregon is the home of the Green Revolution. Dr Norman Borlaug is internationally accredited with changing the face of agriculture. His work from 1943 to 2009 on selective wheat breeding programs lead to huge increases in productivity. In 1951 the average wheat yield for irrigated wheat was 1.2 ton/ha. In 2010 it was 6.5 ton/ha.
Our day was spent at the CIMMYT research facility looking at the continuation of Dr Borlaug’s wheat breeding program. This program has led to new varieties which have been distributed all over the world including Australia. The (GRDC) Grain Research Development Corp work closely with this program and assist with sponsorship. This co-operation helps keep Australian growers world competitive.
There were approx 40,000 wheat trials happening. Some of the objectives include: breeding for higher yields, drought tolerance, disease resistance, management improvements such as best crop rotations, residue options and nutrient application and take up.
This facility has played and will continue to play a substantial role in feeding the world.

March 19 - moving to Mexico

Today was all about travelling to our next destination Obregon in Mexico. Our day started at 3.15am in order for us to catch the first of 3 flights. We arrived at our hotel in Obregon at 11.15pm.
Flying over Mexico City at night and looking at the city lights was incredible. I had no idea how populated this place is!! A population of around 21.2 million people.

March 18 - Yosemite National Park

After 34 days of travel, had our first full day off away from a hectic schedule. Decided to go sight seeing and skiing in the Californian snow at Yosemite National Park. I was very surprised to discover we were in snow country only 30 minutes drive from our hotel in Fresno.

Had 3 foot of snow fall overnight before we made the 2 hour drive to central Yosemite - so very difficult driving with icy, slippery roads through heavy snowfall. Needed to put chains on the rear tyres for traction.
Snow ploughs were going up and down the road. For us guys unfamiliar with snow, we certainly had an amazing experience. Driving through the alpine country of Yosemite is incredible - massive trees, mountains, waterfalls and running water is really spectacular.
We had so much fun with an all-in snowball fight. The other scholars went skiing but I opted out and just watched instead. Didn't want to risk breaking any bones!
Fantastic day! Back to our hotel for final night in California.
California was full of surprises for me. I guess I had a pre-conceived notion about good beaches and some agriculture. I didn't know how magnificent Yosemite National Park and ski resort would be, along with the Sierra mountains, coastal mountain ranges and the massive irrigation valley with such a wide variety of crop types. A very interesting and attractive landscape.
Farewell California!!
I'm looking forward to returning with Anita & Jonte when we travel south into date growing regions.

I'm happy to see a few more date palms even if they are for landscaping purposes!