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Eyes on Brazil

Iowan talks about farms, challenges

March 4, 2012
By LARRY KERSHNER, For The Messenger , Messenger News

Freshly returned from his fourth visit to Brazil, Bill Horan, a Knierim-area producer, said the Brazilians are gearing up to be an ag powerhouse, once that country develops its infrastructure to get farm products to major markets and shipping points.

Horan spent 10 days in Brazil with Bill Northey, Iowa's secretary of agriculture, Ed Kee, Delaware's secretary of ag, plus 20 farmers from each state, from Feb. 15 to Feb. 25.

Horan said he was surprised at a few things he had not seen on his previous three visits.

These include what Horan described as "a full-court press public relations campaign to convince the world Brazil is not cutting down rainforests;" is concerned over McDonald's marketing that it is not using Brazilian beef; and moving toward more technology and mechanization.

It's this last issue that firmly gripped Horan's attention.

The U.S. delegation learned, Horan said, that all Brazilian employers, whether the work is ag related or not, hire as many as four people for one job, because the government has mandated that after an eight-hour work day, a laborer must have 36 hours off before starting another eight-hour day.

"People in Brazil are required to vote," Horan said. "And laborers are the voting power." He said the government is trying to ease the life of the laborers, as well as keep as many people employed in rural communities "and keep them from moving to the cities."

As a result, according to Horan, farm employers must house and feed their workers, even during the 36-hour layoff, and provide for health care, which drives up the cost of farm production.

"That's a significant cost," Horan said, adding that Brazil is moving more toward technology and mechanization to replace workers.

Northey said it was a natural development "by making it tough to have employees, (farm managers) will go to mechanization."

He said managers are planning on using more herbicides than manual labor for weed control, and bigger equipment for working fields.

One sugar mill the delegation visited, Northey said, is going to mechanized harvesting and likely find other work for its laborers.

Horan said if the Brazilian farming community moves fully into higher technology and mechanization, while improving infrastructure, the country could grow into a larger farming entity than it already is.

Telling the world

Horan said Brazilian farmers are taking a page from U.S. farmers' public relations playbook in telling the world that they've been cast in an unfair light - that the ag industry is not destroying its rainforests, and that it will not convert any more acres into farm land than it has currently.

"They have satellite data they use to document they have not destroyed rainforests," Horan said.

In other measures farmers there are enrolling their farms in a program to document size to prove they are not expanding acres for row crops.



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