After returning from a nine-day study tour of Brazilian agriculture, it took a few days to recuperate from the long flight home and to digest what we had just seen.
The country of Brazil is larger than the continental United States and has an incredibly diverse mix of climates and topography. It accounts for over half of the land mass of South America. While the U.S. does grow many different crops, fruits and vegetables, Brazil has the advantage of having a more uniform climate which allows them to grow a wider variety of crops all year round. Here's a sample of what we saw growing in addition to corn and soybeans.
Pineapple: Most people have some growing in their gardens
Blueberries: The soil in Brazil is volcanic in origin and thus very acidic which is perfect for blueberry production
Mango: A very delicious fruit for eating and making into juice
Peanuts: Used for human food and livestock consumption
Beans: Many varieties of beans from pinto to just about any other variety you can imagine. Beans are a staple food for Brazil and we had many different bean dishes with our meals
Cotton: We saw a field of cotton that was as big as a township in Minnesota (over 23,000 acres)
Oranges: The orange harvest was going on around the area south of Sao Paulo. We saw vast groves of trees going up and down the hillsides. Most are harvested by machine and used for juice.
Sugar Cane: Most of Brazil's sugar cane production is located in the southern part of the country. Sugar cane is a perennial crop that is harvested annually. 75% is harvested with machines and 25% is harvested by hand. We visited a field that was being harvested. The machines that do the work cost about $400,000 apiece. Sugar cane production makes Brazil the number one sugar producer in the world.
Coffee: Brazil is number one in world production
Tobacco: Brazil ranks 4th in world production although most young Brazilians do not smoke.
Brazil also ranks second in world production of beef. We saw vast herds of beef cattle grazing on pastures that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was not unusual to look at pastureland that had thousands of head of cattle. That takes us to the next point, the fact that Brazil's number one agricultural asset is its land. We have been talking about Brazil's emergence as a world class producers of many agricultural commodities including corn and soybeans. Brazil currently devotes only a minor portion of its land area to agricultural crops. In fact, only 5% of its total land area is under cultivation. Over half of the country is forested. Deforestation of the Amazon has pretty well ended, at least on a large scale. As a point of reference, the U.S. has 19% of its land area under agricultural cultivation. The big hang-up for agriculture in Brazil is transportation. The country is very vast without a good infrastructure of roads to haul commodities to coastal areas for shipping around the world. The rivers are not conducive for navigation and the railroads have not been updated so the highway system is heavily used to transport everything. Brazilian agriculture is also handicapped by the fact that the soil is quite acidic and needs a lot of lime and fertilizer in order to be productive. Since Brazil does not have a lot of deposits of crop nutrients such as phosphorus, this mineral must be shipped in from ocean posts and trucked around the country at great expense.