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Beans In Brazil

Missouri soybean farmers pose in Brazil field
By Samantha Turner

Seven farmers from Missouri received hands-on lessons on soybeans in Brazil.

As the global soybean sector continues to thrive, Missouri soybean farmers are taking proactive steps to deepen their understanding of the dynamic Brazilian market, a market that holds the coveted position of the No. 1 global soybean exporter. In January, seven farmers representing Missouri embarked on a strategic mission to Brazil with a goal of unlocking valuable insights into Brazil’s soybean production, export capacity, consumer preferences, distribution channels and regulatory requirements.

“Farmers need to see and experience firsthand the agricultural landscape in other countries,” said Gary Wheeler, Missouri Soybeans CEO and executive director. “The return on these missions is invaluable to our state’s producers and gives us an opportunity to see where we have competitive advantage, where we can improve and where we can find common ground to expand and diversify markets.”

Learning About the Land

“The trip aimed to learn about farming and supply chains in key agricultural areas, assessing future soybean production growth and infrastructure capabilities,” said Matt Amick, Missouri Soybeans director of market development. “It was also an opportunity for the farmers to develop leadership skills and make informed decisions on behalf of the organization.”

Brazil’s ascendancy in soybean exports underscores the importance of comprehensive market research. By gaining a nuanced understanding of these factors, U.S. soybean farmers seek to navigate the Brazilian agricultural industry effectively and identify opportunities for collaboration.

“Farming is a business, and it’s important we understand our competition, just like any other industry,” said Kevin Mainord, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC) director and farmer from East Prairie. “We can’t defend what we don’t know or understand. I never think it’s good for us to live in a cocoon and not take the time to understand how we can compete in the future.”

Brazil has many advantages, including longer cropping seasons, the ability to produce multiple crops in one year, lower cost of production and more labor availability. U.S. farmers will have to focus on relationships, quality and logistics to remain competitive.

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We must remain one step ahead in the ever-changing world of technology, infrastructure and market development. To speak
to farmers one-on-one to better understand their mindset and challenges offers an advantage to Missouri’s checkoff payers.
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Tim Gottman
MSMC director and farmer from Monroe City

Farmers set foot on various operations, including farms in Goais, Mato Grosso and Parana. Most notable were the country’s expansive landscapes. Comparatively, Brazil has larger farming operations, more labor and less grain storage. Often, they grow two to three crops per season.

“We went to a farm where they were harvesting soybeans in Brazil and planting corn behind the beans,” said Gottman. “Soybeans were harvested with as many as 10 combines at a time, with grain carts continuously moving in and out of the field.”

Gottman shared that he even got to ride in the combine as they harvested to see the process firsthand and ask the producer questions.

The farmer-leaders on the mission explained the diverse landscape of each field in Brazil, sharing the vast differences in typography.

“The soil quality and varying terrain in Brazil poses challenges for productivity,” said Gottman. “Near Brasilia, it was rolling hills, but when we got to Mato Grosso, it was mostly flat. At any given field, one side could be black soil and the other mostly clay.”

The diverse terrain and varying soil conditions observed during the expedition emphasize the complexities and challenges inherent in maximizing productivity. By embracing these lessons and insights, U.S. soybean farmers are better equipped to navigate the evolving landscape of international agriculture and identify opportunities for collaboration and growth.

The Importance of Infrastructure

Brazil’s increasing export capacity opens new avenues for global trade. The mission assessed how Brazil addresses infrastructure challenges and the implications for U.S. soybean farmers as they compete for market share. Examining logistics and distribution networks allows soybean growers to identify areas for improvement and collaboration to streamline the export process.

“As an industry, we often hear about the infrastructure in Brazil, but seeing firsthand their production scale and reliance on trucking highlights the need for infrastructure investment,” said Amick. “Brazil is continuing to invest, which underscores the need for the U.S. to focus on making sure our infrastructure is strong to maintain our competitive edge in logistics.”

Brazil is heavily reliant on trucking with less rail access compared to the United States. There is also less on-farm storage capacity with most processors building large warehouses for flat storage to store harvested crops.

Gottman observed that most farmers used dump trailers, rather than hoppers, requiring the elevators and processing facilities to use lifts to dump grain, which decreases efficiency.

“They lack the capacity to handle things with ease like we do in the U.S.,” said Mainord. “For example, when hauling fertilizer, we use bulk trailers, and they are still using bulk bags for thousands of acres.”

The reliance on trucking, limited rail access and inadequate on-farm storage capacity present hurdles that impact efficiency and competitiveness. Through firsthand observations, U.S. soybean farmers have recognized the importance of infrastructure investment to maintain a competitive edge in the face of Brazil’s increasing export capacity.

“We have to sharpen our pencil and continue to be a low-cost provider to compete on the world stage,” said Mainord. “We need to
compete through economies to scale and our advancements in technology, raising more bushels at a lower cost.”

Connections and Collaborations

While competition is inherent in the global market, the mission emphasized building solid relationships with Brazilian soybean stakeholders. This involves regular communication, understanding local business practices and fostering trust.

Collaborative efforts on the knowledge and regulatory practices surrounding genetically modified (GM) products are vital to ensuring open markets for both nations.

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By collaborating on acceptance of biotechnology, we can open markets for both countries to more effectively feed the world. If farmers are allowed to operate in an environment where they are seen as the solution to problems like hunger and climate challenges, farmers from both countries will thrive.
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Matt Amick
MSMC director of market development

The farmers also learned that sustainability is critical in Brazil despite the perceptions. For instance, in certain parts of the country, farmers are required by law to keep 20% of their acres in forest. In areas closer to the Amazon biome, they are required keep 80% of their acres in forest.

Despite these protections, U.S. soybean farmers have an advantage over Brazilian farmers in the sustainability discussion. The conservation practices and technology contributing to more efficient use of inputs, better soil health and carbon sequestration are critical to providing a competitive advantage over Brazil in the world marketplace.

“This topic of deforestation and sustainability in the world market is top of mind for Brazilian producers,” says Gottman. “They are behind the United States and have some disadvantages because they have and are continuing to clear land for production agriculture.”

The farmers also learned Brazil is behind when it comes to investing in education, market access and building new market demand across the world. With partners on the ground in international markets such as the U.S. Soybean Export Council, World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, U.S. Meat Export Federation and U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, Missouri soybean farmers are at the table every day with current and potential buyers of U.S. soy products and soy value-added products.

While traveling, Missouri’s producers met with Embrapa, Brazil’s state-owned research corporation that operates 43 research facilities focused on production, technology and sustainability; the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock; FS Biofuels ethanol plant; COACEN Cooperative; 3 Tentos retail supply, crush and biodiesel plant; Granfinale Sistemas Agricolas, where they produce grain drying, cleaning and transporting equipment; and the Caramuru Terminal at the Port of Santos, which loads out soybean meal for export.

“Through meetings with various stakeholders and visits to agricultural operations and research facilities, the mission provided valuable insights into Brazil’s agricultural landscape and the potential for mutually beneficial partnerships,” said Wheeler. “Moving forward, continued collaboration and exchange of knowledge will be essential for the prosperity of the soybean industry in both Brazil and the United States.”

This mission marked a significant step for U.S. soybean farmers in expanding their global footprint and fostering mutually beneficial relationships with their Brazilian counterparts. By delving into the intricacies of the Brazilian market, U.S. soybean farmers are positioning themselves for success in an ever-changing international trade landscape.

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