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Brazil trip leads to quest to learn about ag worldwideBrazil trip leads to quest to learn about ag worldwide

Commentary: A UNL agronomy student's eyes are opened about the opportunities for agriculture around the world.

September 15, 2023

4 Min Read
UNL student and Nebraska Farmer freelance writer taking a tour of the Caterpillar plant
AT CAT: Taking a tour of the Caterpillar plant was part of a recent educational summer school trip to Brazil by UNL student and Nebraska Farmer freelance writer Charlotte Brockman (fourth from the left in the second row). This photo includes participants in the 2023 Tropical Biobased Production Systems program touring at the Piracicaba Caterpillar manufacturing plant. Photos by Charlotte Brockman

by Charlotte Brockman

Curiosity feeds the soul, and lucky for us, the world is big and wide. I have always been an adventurous spirit, never able to let the grass grow beneath my feet for too long.

Being raised in a small town, I was always fascinated by the world and often would study maps of the world when I was young. As I have grown up, my curiosity about the world has not faded, and after two years of college, it has led me to Brazil.

Focus on soil

After changing my major to agronomy with a focus on soil science, I began to look for opportunities to travel abroad. This summer, I had the opportunity to be the first University of Nebraska student to attend the University of Sao Paulo’s Tropical Bio-Based Production Systems Summer School. During a two-week period, I was able to explore a new city, make friends from all over the world, and reflect on agriculture in Nebraska and Brazil.

Located two hours west of Sao Paulo — which is the world's fourth-largest city — Piracicaba is a smaller community home to one of the best agricultural universities in South and Latin America. It is home to the vibrant culture of Brazil and holds an extra appreciation of land, agriculture and an idea for an innovative future. If I hadn’t seen toucans on my walk to class each day, I might have thought I was at UNL in Lincoln.

The course hosted was an in-depth overview of agriculture in Brazil, with opportunities for discussion among my peers. This included the outlook of students from six countries, representing five continents. Initially, I was concerned I would be the alien from middle America, and unable to contribute to the group, mainly consisting of graduate students. However, my nerves were quickly calmed when the first professor began to lecture on Palmer amaranth, a nuisance I am familiar with.

Over the course of the next weeks, I learned from a German economist, gained insight from South African Extension specialists and came to admire the ingenuity of Brazilian agriculture. The course took us to the largest dairy in Brazil, one of Caterpillar's largest manufacturing facilities, Koppert Biological Solutions and a sugarcane ethanol plant. These opportunities allowed me to see into the industry and diversity of Sao Paulo state, while also comparing it to systems I had seen in the U.S.

Exploring campus and beyond

I also spent time exploring campus, while learning about hydroponics, cachaca distilling, animal husbandry and pest management. This included a private tour of an insect lab where students were researching the management of leaf-cutter ants, a major pest in eucalyptus production.

While it was very interesting, the highlight for the group was my reaction to the queen of the ant colony, which can be as large as the tip of my index finger. This is one of many experiences that made my trip memorable, mainly to the credit of Brazilian hospitality.

I spoke only three words of Portuguese when I entered the country. Leaving, I had a survival-level vocabulary and memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The great thing that I have found about the world we live in today is besides the minor logistical details, traveling internationally is really as simple as booking a plane ticket. I and others, no matter our background, have a unique ability and opportunity to explore the world, if we are simply bold enough to take the step.

Coming from a rural community, I sometimes wonder what role I have to play in a global community. This experience showed me that my past and the heritage that has helped my family feed people for four generations is valuable beyond measure.

The dust on my boots and the callouses on my hands are a story, which I gladly shared with my new friends and the professors in Brazil. My study abroad experiences only enriched my education, making me a better American, and fueling a fire that will most likely lead to further travel in the future.

Brockman writes from Lincoln, Neb.

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