Blogs from Brazil – Part 4 by April Hemmes

Thursday, Feb. 23

Our bus left at 7 a.m. for a three-hour ride to an ethanol, sugar and biodiesel plant called Barracool. A group of seven cattle farmers founded this company in the 1980s, and there are currently 27 owners. The plant can run on either sugar or ethanol; it’s presently running 75% ethanol and 25% sugar.   Facts that we learned about production here:

  • 86,000 acres are harvested to provide sugar cane to this plant.
  • 38 tons of sugar cane yields 275 pounds of sugar.
  • Workers cut sugar cane by hand for 8 hours and then have 36 hours off.  (Yes, you read correctly.  Brazil has strict labor laws!)

After visiting Barralcool, we stopped by a school where children learn English.  Then we visited a beautiful place that Barralcool helped establish for at-risk kids.  Social awareness and volunteerism are apparently alive and well within this company.

Friday, Feb. 24

On our last day in Brazil, we headed to the headquarters of FAMATO of Mato Grosso, which is equivalent to America’s Farm Bureau.  We met with the Under Secretary of Agriculture for the Mato Grosso state.  He was assisted by representatives from the departments of economics, livestock and the environment.

headquarters of FAMATO of Mato Grosso

The FAMATO presentations were so interesting because they were filled with facts about Brazil.  We learned that Mato Grosso, mainly because of its size and climate, is the main state for agriculture in Brazil.  Each truck load of grain has to travel 1,000 miles to port since there is only one main road to the ports or rail line.

Interestingly enough, almost half of Brazil’s farms are “small” and are comprised of fewer than 2,000 acres.  We had the opportunity to visit some of the country’s largest farms, which were on a totally different scale than what we’re accustomed to in the Midwest.

Our group spent some time reflecting on our trip and talking about the misconceptions we had before touring the country.  Most of us thought we would see the rainforest being cut down to make room for production agriculture, but that just isn’t the case.  Brazil has had a ban on clearing land in effect since the mid-2000s.  Plus, farmers are required to leave 20% of their land in its natural state; 85% of the land must be left in its natural state if it’s closer to the rainforest.

I came home from this trip with the impression that farmers – whether they live in Brazil, Delaware or Iowa – are in the business of producing food for the world while caring for the environment.  I no longer see Brazil as our competition, but our ally in production agriculture.