Five farmers, five questions - Fred Grieder, McLean County

What IFB South American study tour participants learned.

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McLean County farmer Fred Grieder checks out a newly planted cotton field near Campo Novo, Brazil. The field was planted just after soybean harvest. (Photos by Rita Frazer)

By Rita Frazer

Ten Illinois Farm Bureau members attended a recent, 12-day study tour of Argentina and Brazil. We asked five of them five questions to find out what they learned.

Below are Fred Grieder’s answers. Grieder raises corn and non-GMO soybeans in northwestern McLean County.

1. What does the cost of production look like for South American farmers?

Grieder: Their land costs are much lower than ours. In addition to that, they would be growing two crops with those lower land costs. I would say that their fertilizer and seed costs are very similar to ours. Their chemical costs would be higher because most of the growers that we visited with were spraying four times for (soybean) rust, and that’s a big expense. Their equipment costs are probably a little lower because they run their machinery longer. You know, with planting two or even three crops a year, it’s not unusual for them to put 10,000 hours on a tractor. 

2. How does the average farm in Brazil or Argentina compare to the average Illinois farm?

Grieder: That is hard to compare because it depends on what area you are in. What you’d call the frontier areas, like in Mato Grosso, Brazil, there were a lot of 16,000-plus-acre farms. In that area, you would run into farms about 10 times larger than we’re used to in central Illinois. But as you move south into the areas that have been developed longer, the farm size shrinks dramatically. 

3. What does farm ownership look like in South America?

Grieder: When I think of the different types of farmers we visited, I was impressed with the generation of farmers coming up. I’d say that those 40 and under, they’re very progressive and they are committed to do what it will take to stay in business. Their operations are growing. They are renting and buying land. The smaller, older farmers are fading out a lot, and you see a lot of consolidation. I would say in this aspect, farm ownership in South America isn’t much different than the U.S. at this point.

4. What is the quality of life like for an average farmer there?

Grieder: There’s quite a change from the developed areas of the countries to the less-developed areas. In southern Brazil, the more developed areas with some small farmers, the quality of life is below ours. Areas like Mato Grosso would be comparable to what our Great Plains area would have been during the Homestead Act - just vast expanses of farmland that look so promising. Those farmers’ quality of life, with their larger operations, is similar to ours. So, you see it all actually.

5. What are Argentina’s and Brazil’s future expansion plans?

Grieder: We see unbelievable potential to expand. But their infrastructure is not developed. The present farmland is located closest to the ports, roads and rivers. As they develop new land, it’s further away, and their transportation costs are quite a bit more. We’re concerned about the infrastructure in the U.S. holding up because it was designed and built in the 1920s. Here (in South America), they are developing ports and building for the next 50 years. 

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