The land drops off suddenly, just about two steps beyond the last row of cotton or soybeans western Bahia farmers planted in Brazil's Bahia state. There's no fence along this cliff. The land just falls off, opening up a majestic panorama of lower land below, stretching to the horizon. And if you look straight down from there, you think maybe taking a step or two back wouldn't be a bad idea.
This is the western part of Bahia state in Brazil, where Illinoisan John Carroll farms, taking advantage of the pool-table flatness of the farmland atop the escarpment. Learning how to plant close to a stunning drop-off like that is one of the things you may learn to do when you farm there.
But there are others, like reacting to market signals—learning new tricks when necessary. After all, Carroll says he's "still learning" how to best produce corn in Bahia, Brazil, which is a long way from where he grew up in Illinois.
"I didn't know the first thing about producing cotton when I first got here," Carroll says. But he learned. "We were heavy into cotton until a few years ago. But, as prices got lower and lower, we ended up going from 95% cotton a while back to maybe five percent. But we kept all our cotton equipment and the gin. Prices will eventually be back."
And despite the fact that "we are still really learning how to best produce corn here," they seem to be doing a good job. Last year's farm-wide yield came to 155 bushels per acre in a place with relatively low soil nutrients, low clay content and the occasional two-week absence of rain during the growing season.
But the addition of main-crop corn has allowed, Carroll says, for better rotations and the use of more no-till. "And so corn here is similar in profitability to soy."
For more Brazilian ag news, see other South American Crop Watch posts.
With a concentration of poultry production not far from where he farms, Carroll has a ready market for much of his product. That's far from the situation for many producers in Mato Grosso state, who also like the agronomic benefits of a rotation involving corn, but don't have any place nearby to sell it.
Now he's figuring out how to push the most bushels possible out of main-crop Brazilian corn. Which is the way success works in Western Bahia, where falling right off the edge is a possibility for those who don't pay close attention.
The opinions of James Thompson are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or the Penton Farm Progress Group.