Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Thoughts on my Brazil experience

I found Brazil fascinating. I was captivated by its small rural townships and the idyllic small farm models which easily support 3 or 4 happy families. Brazil's population is 191 million which matches the 5th largest population with the 5th largest country. Make no mistake, Brazil has a high rate of poverty. My observations were that the low class housing was more obvious on the fringes of the super cities and very large towns. I was informed there is no government funded unemployment program so its a work or starve culture. The average income per capita is $8000US. This creates a workforce which is willing to undertake any task. In an agricultural context this simply means cheap labour is always available even for the most mundane duties - resulting in a relatively low cost production system. Machinery and mechanization are being readily adopted and this, plus foreign investment, seems to be upsizing the farming scale.

I can only be in awe of Brazil's natural resources and scope for increasing their agricultural capabilities. They are already giants in terms of their contribution to world agricultural production. To reflect on this, Brazil is the largest exporter of beef cattle, sugar, coffee and orange juice. They are 2nd with soya bean, ethanol, tobacco. 3rd with chicken meat and the 4th largest global corn exporter. Brazil has just surpassed the UK to be the 6th largest economy and looks like rising further. This is of course due in part to other competing countries backsliding as a result of the global financial crisis.

Thanks to my Nuffield Global Focus Program (GFP), I have had the opportunity to travel to many countries to review their economic, social and cultural dynamics surrounding agricultural production. I discovered there has been a recurring theme throughout these countries that keeps being raised - that world population will increase to 9 billion people by 2050! how will we feed these people?
I'm pleased I fluked finishing my GFP in Brazil for now I know where the solution to this challenge is going to come from. The solution is Brazil, Brazil, Brazil!!! While I am convinced there is still room to increase productivity from existing traditional global farming countries, the future capacity to increase agricultural production within Brazil is enormous.
To reflect on some of the quotes we learned from our Brazilian visit: they are only utilizing about 9% of the land mass that is being well managed. The remainder is largely unimproved, cleared pastures with low cattle stocking rates. Enormous change is now underway in Brazil - largely driven in partnership with foreign companies (dairy & sugar cane are really moving). Unimproved land is being converted to high production systems. The climate and rainfall allows for double cropping and a cheap workforce ensures world competitive pricing. An example of this is when I moved to the Riverland in 1988 there was a large citrus juice industry. Since the Free Trade Agreement allowed Brazilian orange juice concentrate into Australia, the local citrus juicing industry has largely disappeared. Now I have a clearer understanding of why!! I thought it was because of the cheap labour inputs of Brazil that made us non-competitive. This is of course true but now I have discovered that Brazil also has a huge advantage in being able to grow juicing citrus on rainfall without needing to irrigate. To emphasize this advantage, the Riverland needs to own/lease large water entitlements and pay an additional significant charge for pumping costs to deliver this irrigation water. The wide, wild rivers in Brazil deliver enormous volumes of water. Irrigation is now becoming more and more popular particularly amongst dairy/beef producers but also cropping and vegetable growing. Only last year another 160,000 ha of unimproved grazing land was converted to high production irrigated land. In total Brazil has 4.5 million irrigated hectares. A water/river sustainability report we heard, targets a possible 30 million hectares of irrigation. This represents an increase in irrigation development of 130,000ha per year for the next 200 years - HUGE!!
We also heard that Brazil is capable of tripling its beef exports very quickly if necessary but is happy to maintain current levels so as not to create over supply and lower prices. Brazil is also having mass expansion in sugar cane. With 455 ethanol producing plants and already being the 2nd largest exporter of ethanol, I suspect Brazil will also deliver renewable energy for global consumption. So from now on whenever I hear the question "how are we going to feed 9 billion people by 2050" I will answer by directing that person to study what is happening in Brazil and their capability.

For more information on this, you may like to look at the following 5 minute youtube clip:
BRAZIL: A Hungry Plant and Brazilian Agriculture - BASFAGRO

In general the Brazilian people were very friendly to us. Communication was mostly difficult. My Portugese is non-existent and not many Brazilian's speak English. The majority of the population are Catholic. Prices for hotels are reasonable - possibly 2/3 of what we would pay for good quality. Food and beverages are cheap. We ate mostly at restaurants and food was really good. I will take away some fantastic memories of Brazil. Although I have little interest in Soccer, I will be an interested onlooker when Brazil host the World Cup in 2014!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

April 1 - Brazil to Australia

An early start to get to the airport for flights.

Ribeirao Preto - Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo - Santiago
Santiago - Auckland
Auckland - Sydney
Sydney - Adelaide

About 42 hours travel back to the Riverland!!

March 31 - Last day!!

It's over already!! Today was the last full day of our 7 week Global Focus Program - can't believe how fast its rushed by.  Photo - our Hotel
This morning we visited the most picturesque farm I have ever seen, set amongst the mountains of the Brazilian highland. This farm had the most amazing natural living landscape I have ever encountered - mountains, valley and lakes blended within the property.
Within the perimetre of the farm were corridors of remnant rainforest vegetation, Eucalypt woodlands, furrowed corn paddocks, stands of Elephant grass and sugar cane, coffee bushes oriented in rows across the sloping land....... Photo - ripening coffee beans

....... a chain of ponds/dams which gravity feed down the mountain gully are cleverly utilized for growing commercial Pintado and Tilapia fish. These ponds and surrounds were very popular with a wide range of birds - from some type of large eagle to brightly decorated parrots and emerald green hummingbirds which hovered above a bounty of colourful flowers. Photo - fish dam
 Sorghum coming through
Eucalypts doing well
Elephant grass used for silage
This farmer and family run a dairy herd with feed lot system. They have also established a boutique sugar cane rum distillery which proved to be a real hit with our scholars. We inspected the facility and sampled the different styles of rum, some of which were aged in native Brazilian timber vats for upto 10 years.
This rum is made from fermenting and distilling sugar cane and is called Cachaca (the Australian Bundaberg Rum I believe is made from molasses). Cachaca Rum is well known throughout Brazil and is either drunk straight or used in mixers.
We presented the owner with a bottle of Bundy! This property and family was an absolute pleasure to visit. We then drove another 3 1/2 hours to Ribeirao Preto for our farewell dinner and last night in Brazil.

March 30 - Cattle & Coffee

We started our day looking at a stud bull cattle genetics facility. Here were some of Brazil's best beef and dairy genetics - Brahman, Nelore, Gur, Red Angus, Black Angus, Simmental, Hereford. There are 120 bulls from which semen is collected and sold all over the world.
In the afternoon we spent time with the owner of a coffee processing factory. He showed us through his factory looking at how the coffee beans are ground.
It was also very interesting to see how the coffee taster sampled and graded coffee quality to determine the price the grower received. Basically its similar to wine tasting where a sample of the coffee is first smelt then tasted, with the sample being spit into a spitoon.
This district of Carmo do Rio Claro is right in the heart of the largest coffee growing region of Brazil. The best country for coffee is high elevation and inland away from sea breezes. This district has 2000mm of rain per year. Brazil is the world's largest exporter of coffee. Stayed at a beautiful lake-front hotel at Carmo do Rio Claro.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

March 29 - Broadacre cropping

After a 3 hour delay swapping our bus for one with an operating air conditioner (40 degrees outside), we began what was going to be a very long driving day. Only one stop - a large dry land broad acre cropping farm. This company- owned farm grows soya bean and corn (about 4600 ha). They are no-till croppers and do not irrigate, just rely on average rainfall which is about 1500 mm/ year. We were all very impressed with the organic matter and mulch in the soil. They were also growing living mulch (grass species) in amongst corn and soya bean to retain soil structure and minimize fungal disease issues. The soil had more life and water holding capacity than cultivation systems we have looked at. Corn yields of 12 t/ha and soya bean 3.7 t/ha. This farm also grows a Eucalypt tree woodlot for wood chipping and burning to produce heat to dry grain for storage.

Now back on the bus to continue driving - a lot of it through heavy tropical rain. The Brazilian country side is magnificent, being towards the end of the wet season, everything is still green and lush. Tall trees of all descriptions, many of which I have never seen before. Also lots of cultivated tree crop types including Rubber trees, Eucalypt, coffee, plus tropical fruit trees. Lots of cleared paddocks where mostly Brahman cattle graze. The terrain is very undulating which brings me to the roads. The roads here are really shitfull!!! Never seems to be any flat stretches. We are either always driving up single lane rises or down hills, seldom any overtaking lanes. Some of my previous blogs quoting the massive yields from a massive land base may paint a picture of just how many trucks and heavy transport are on the road. The decision making process on when to overtake is an absolute mystery to me. Each days travel seems to end in an exchange between scholars on their white knuckle moments. In defence of the Roads Authority we did drive past many road construction works where improvements are underway.
After about 10 hours drive time we safely arrived at our hotel in Uberaba...