In February, I spent five days in Brazil with soybean yield champ Kip Cullers and Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. We traveled the mileage equivalent of going from Seattle to Detroit.
From our trip, I could see that Brazil’s agricultural production has far surpassed the current infrastructure. Here are some things I learned:
- The global market wants Brazilian grain. The government has promised $4.6 billion in investments to its port infrastructure through 2016. We saw a railroad being built (by the Chinese, it was rumored) that will be dedicated to moving grain from the state of Mato Grosso to port. In 2011, China bought $11 billion of soybeans from Brazil.
- Farms are large and isolated, complicating the transportation of massive amounts of grain. One farm we visited was more than 10 miles down a dirt road with nothing but crops on either side.
- Waiting at the terminal to unload grain can take up to two days. As you drive along the line of grain trucks, it can look like a game day tailgate. Drivers use makeshift kitchens on the trucks as they sit at a standstill.
- Brazilians must change a vehicle’s shocks like they change its oil. There aren’t many stop signs on paved roads—instead, there are speed bumps and plenty of them. On the dirt roads there are potholes, and plenty of those too.
- The government-owned oil company, Petrobras, is building two ethanol pipelines to double capacity.
This trip showed an emerging giant with a coming-of-age transportation network that is too many steps behind its production. Read more in the story "Southern Exposure."