Blogs from Brazil by April Hemmes

Brazil’s Vice President of Government Affairs was the evening’s hostess. She’s pictured here with April Hemmes.

Guest blog by
April Hemmes, Hampton, Iowa

Franklin County farmer April Hemmes is traveling through Brazil with a group of Iowans.  You can get a sneak peek at Brazilian culture and agriculture here.  Read below for a daily account of her journey, and watch for more travel tales to come this week!

Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012

I’m traveling in Brazil with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Delaware Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Kee. These gentlemen are friends, who decided to form a delegation from both states to learn about agriculture in Brazil.

Floating town on the Amazon

Today we arrived in Manaus, which was a 5-hour flight from Miami. Manaus, which is located along the Amazon River, was formed when rubber plantations were big here. The Rio Negro and another tributary of the Amazon converge in Manaus. The rivers run side by side, one is black water and one white. It’s truly amazing to see! The reason for difference in appearance is because the Rio Negro is denser and warmer in temperature with a faster current.

The Amazon is huge; it’s 6 miles across in places. (Yes, 6 miles!!) And we were told the Amazon is actually longer than the Nile because GPS can trace the start of the original tributary farther into the rainforest.  Huge ships haul goods in and out. Ships filled with goods head up river to municipalities, and it takes 7 days to reach some cities.

Making a rubber ball

A boat stopped at the rubber plantation where we got to see how rubber is produced. A rubber tree is tapped at night and latex drips into a can.  Then, over an open fire, the canned drippings are stirred until a big, black rubber ball forms.

Some of us walked around the block to see the big church in town. Many street vendors were selling all sorts of goods. Manaus is a city where the ratio of women to men is 6 to 1. Since I’m the only women on this trip, I have the better ratio of 37 to 1!

Tomorrow we fly to Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil. It’s a totally planned city.  They took a clear tract of land and then moved the capital there in the 1950s.

Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012

Manaus Opera House

This morning we stopped by the Manaus Opera House. It’s truly beautiful. All of the materials were brought over from Europe. Located inside the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil, it hosts the Amazonas Opera Festival every year from March until May.  It’s also home to the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra.

After a quick stop at the opera house, we traveled over a brand new bridge crossing the Rio Negro. This bridge is almost 2 miles long – at the most narrow point of the river! This bridge opened up the southern side of the river for commerce & building. Before the bridge was built, people from Manaus had to wait 5 hours to cross the river in a ferry.  Now they can cross in just minutes.

As we headed south, it was apparent we were heading deeper into the jungle. Our destination was a banana plantation. The plantation owner said that after clearing the land they had to fertilize it for 6 years until it could sustain banana plants. After one shoot produces a bunch, they are cut off and another shoot will produce the next bunch. New plants are germinated from rhizomes of an existing plant. The soil is very acidic so it takes calcium (lime) to make it productive, but this is very expensive. When fresh bananas aren’t as valuable, they make their bananas into a gummy candy. We were treated to some, and it’s very tasty!

Friday, Feb. 17, 2012

People in the corn field that should yield 185-200 bu/A

Today we left Brasilia for a lovely 5-hour bus ride to a farm owned by John Carroll, an Illinois farmer who owns 30,000 acres here.

During the ride, our guide gave us a history of the area. Brasilia is the capital of Brazil. It’s a planned city laid out in the shape of a cross. The city was built between 1955 and 1960. It was designed for 500,000 people but has grown to 2.5 million.

Other random facts we learned today:

  • Hunting is forbidden here except by indigenous people.
  • The Brazilian government has made it very difficult foreigners to buy land here.

John Carroll shared many of the regulations by which he has to abide.  He also said he first thought he would just raise soybeans but found cotton was a great crop due to favorable growing conditions. Cotton can be planted continuously as long as no trash is left on the field because of the Boll Weevil.

“Cotton spends the first 60 days figuring how to die and then we spend the last 60 days figuring how to kill it,” said John.  Next year he will plant 50% of his acres to cotton with the rest corn and soybeans.

Corn is planted here at populations of 29,000 – 30,000; soybeans are planted at 130,000.

John explained that it took 6 to 7 years for his land to get to fertility. They found it came into production sooner by saturating the ground with P & K rather than just giving the crop what it needed for that year. He also mentioned that one of the biggest problems they have with the soil is aluminum toxicity, so they apply lime.

Entrance to the farm headquarters

Corn harvest will start next month, followed by soybeans and then cotton for the next three months. John hires the corn and soybeans harvested. Harvest crews travel all over the country much like a wheat run in the U.S.

Contiguous farms in Brazil consist of 8,000  to 11,000 acres.  The Brazilian government requires land owners to leave 20% in its natural state, but higher percentages are required the closer you get to the rainforest. Farmers can also mitigate the land, so they have large areas of brush land they can buy.