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Jair Bolsonaro

Brazilians pick new president on Sunday

Presidential winner will determine just how hard the Brazilians play the export game over the next four years.

As you weigh congressional candidate positions for your November vote, Brazilians will pick a new president Oct. 7.

Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was considering running again, but now he’s in jail on corruption charges. He likely would have won, but now the field is limited to other candidates.

There are enough candidates splitting the vote that everybody is counting on a run-off later in the month, as Brazilian law stipulates any candidate must gather at least 51% of the vote to win.

This matters to you because the outcome will decide just how aggressively Brazil goes after foreign markets over the next four years.

Two kinds of candidates

Two of the candidates are considered good for Brazilian export agriculture; the rest are leftist figures likely to encourage small producers and squatters to produce just enough melons, carrots and potatoes for subsistence.

Of the two candidates Brazilian farmers favor, one—Geraldo Alckmin from Sao Paulo state—is a dark horse with low polling numbers. But the other is 73-year-old Jair Bolsonaro, a congressman from the State of Rio de Janeiro. A conservative former military officer, he’s a controversial candidate given Brazil’s past history of military governments.

Bolsonaro, who was stabbed at a rally last month, has been running his campaign from a hospital and leads in the polls with 26% of the vote in a field of at least three more major candidates, according to a recent survey.

The Brazilian Midwest

So I called my old friend Jose Edgar Andrade, who is getting ready to plant his nearly 5,000 acres of cropland to soybeans by mid-month. He’ll likely follow many of those acres up with a dab of second-crop corn while he also tends to his 800 head of cattle and his 25,000 rubber trees.

He said full-time farmers across the production area (with the exception of the Northeast of the country, which bulges out across the Atlantic toward Africa) will vote for Bolsonaro, the only candidate in his view who is both in favor of helping production agriculture and has a chance of winning.

“He believes production agriculture is our friend,” Andrade told me. “The rest of them just want to support the MST (Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers’ group which invades and squats on farms to pressure the government to parcel them out into small lots for subsistence.)

New Ag Minister

Consider this: the current Ag Minister is Blairo Maggi, a hard-driving zillionaire soybean planter, crusher and exporter who has camped out in China, Russia and Europe to hawk Brazil’s beans, corn and ethanol. Depending on who eventually wins the Brazilian presidential elections, his successor could be a strong environmentalist who considers exports less important than the environment, or an ag minister more focused on helping subsistence farmers get by, rather than providing tax breaks and other incentives for the big boys to push ever more grain and oilseeds onto export markets.

Mr. Maggi could be retained under the next administration. Or he might be dumped. There’s really no way to know at this point.

There is no question he has done a solid job, and even though he belongs to a center-right party, he served under a leftist administration. That is, he could be acceptable to either side of the aisle. Unless, of course, the Green Party were to take control. In that case, the winner of the dubious Greenpeace award “The Golden Chainsaw” would get out of the administration and retake his old senate seat from Mato Grosso state.

With Brazil producing record bean crops each year, it will be useful to know who eventually wins the presidency, as your competitors could end up focusing on agribusiness for export or on family farming to alleviate rural poverty. The Brazilian voters’ choice on Sunday will determine just how hard the Brazilians play the export game over the next four years.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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