Illinois farmers check in on South American agriculture

Read about 5 sites the Americans have already visited and some of their learnings from early in the trip.

Illinois _farmers _gauge _south _american _competitiveness _1_636525709595556000

Inventory at this Brahman cattle feedlot in Mato Grosso is down, but the operation still employs more than 50 families. (Photos by Rita Frazer)

By Rita Frazer

Chad Schutz is among the 11 Illinois farmers on the Illinois Farm Bureau’s study tour of Brazil and Argentina. So far, the group has gotten a whirlwind tour of grain and livestock farms, shipping facilities, an ethanol plant and more.

Early in the tour, Schutz said the experience is already giving him a new outlook on agriculture, which is what he hoped for when he decided to participate.

“I’ve met farmers from all over the world, and you’re always wanting to help agriculture move along. Every farmer wants to do better,” said Schutz, who produces corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs in Greene County. “I think we’ve all learned something and will walk away with a different perspective on how things work.”  

A Brazilian TV crew interviews Greene County farm Chad Schutz.
A Brazilian TV crew interviews Greene County farm Chad Schutz.

While in South America, the farmers hope to get some insight into farmers’ competitiveness. Schutz has been surprised at what they’ve learned so far.

“I really came down here with the notion that they (South American farmers) could outcompete us and that they really didn’t have the same issues we do,” Schutz said. “But we talked to farmers here, and they really are dealing with some of the same issues. And their input costs are relatively equal.” 

He noted that the industry continues to invest, which could lead to more growth in the future.

As much as the Illinois farmers are learning, Brazilians hope to learn from the Americans as well. A local TV crew captured one of the farm tours this week, including an interview with Schutz.

This barge-loading facility on a tributary of the Amazon River can load grain destined for export at a speed of about 57,000 bushels per hour.
This barge-loading facility on a tributary of the Amazon River can load grain destined for export at a speed of about 57,000 bushels per hour.

The group has been busy – read about five stops on their itinerary that could affect the global ag marketplace:

1. River Trapajos: The tour started on this tributary of the Amazon River, home of the Hydrovias do Brasil-HBSA-port, a large barge service provider to companies such as Bunge and Cargill. The Cargill facility next door handles grain from a 600-square-mile area. With incoming grain being unloaded around the clock at six pits, crews can load barges at a speed of approximately 57,000 bushels per hour.

2. Mato Grosso: The group spent two days in Brazil’s large-crop-producing state touring a 15,000-acre farm, an ethanol plant and a cattle feedlot. It also met with Fundacion Mato Grosso, a private research organization funded by a checkoff on soybeans grown in the state. The organization does research in several areas, including yield and pests.

3. Coprodia: This cooperative produces ethanol from sugarcane delivered by its members. The coop is also exploring producing ethanol from corn to enable year-round production. Sugar cane cannot be stored, so the plant requires another feedstock to produce ethanol full time. In addition, this type of innovation would allow the farmer members of the cooperative to take advantage of times when world sugar prices are high or local corn prices are low.

4. Utida family farm: The group saw fields of soybeans being harvested and double-crop cotton being planted – in some cases, right after the harvested soybeans. In other fields, safrina corn will be planted following soybeans. The farm has 50 employees and had 10 combines running – three owned by the family and the others brought in by custom harvesters. Harvest basis for soybeans often dips to $2.50 under Chicago. Current grain prices are too low to incentivize clearing additional land.

5. Cattle feedlot: The group watched Brahman cattle being loaded into trucks, which left the lots sparsely populated. “I would not want to be a cowboy here,” Schutz said. “The cattle are high-headed and not as well-tempered as we are used to with most of our U.S. breeds.” The owners of the feedlot partner with JBS, whose recent business controversy has affected production numbers. The feedlot’s current inventory is less than half of 2003 levels. Despite the down numbers, the operation still employs about 50 families.

Related: Visit this link for more updates from the tour.

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