Blairo Maggi has been called the “King of Soybeans” because, with nearly a quarter-million acres of soybeans, he may be the world's biggest soybean farmer. Now you can call him governor, too. Maggi, 46, was sworn in as governor of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso on Jan. 1.
Maggi's rise to the top, since arriving in this once nearly uninhabited state 23 years ago, mirrors Mato Grosso's own growth. Today, Mato Grosso producers are clearing land, growing cotton and producing soybeans. Maggi's own system of barge transport from new planting areas to the Amazon River, where ocean-going ships can carry loads of Brazilian soybeans to world ports, has helped fuel growth by lowering the crop's transportation costs.
Soybean Digest caught up with Maggi in January to find out what he hopes to accomplish during his term.
“My electoral platform was based on the need to keep up economic development in Mato Grosso,” he says. “As governor, my key goal is to … triple agricultural production in Mato Grosso within 10 years, and to develop agro-industry in order to add value to that production.”
He's got his work cut out for him. While a new rail line and his waterway have helped increase ag output in the state, roads remain in appalling condition.
Here is what Maggi says about key political issues affecting soybeans:
Brazil is awaiting a judicial decision to lift a ban on the planting of Roundup Ready soybeans. Until then, the planting of biotech crops remains illegal in Brazil. Maggi says Brazilian farmers should be free to plant biotech soybeans “because our producers will increase their competitiveness.”
He adds, “Biotech soybeans, in my view, are just a commercial issue. The discussion of the biotech issue in Brazil has gone from the technical to the ideological. It should be up to consumers to choose whether they want biotech, traditional or organic soybeans. Until the courts decide, the (Brazilian) farmer pays the price, having to take on greater production costs.”
Meanwhile, Maggi says Europeans, who demand non-biotech soybeans, aren't paying for them. “The certification of non-biotech soybeans is an additional cost we're trying to pass on to the buyer. We still haven't received an extra cent for non-biotech products.”
WTO And Subsidies
The Brazilian government has taken initial steps toward arguing the World Trade Organization case against the U.S. cotton regime. It has prepared the paperwork necessary to do the same with soybeans, although it has not filed the latter.
“How are we to compete with producers who receive more from the U.S. Treasury than the value of the sale of their crop?” asks Maggi. “How do we compete with a producer who pays more attention to the mailbox, to see if the check from the Treasury arrived, than to check the price of his crop on the exchanges?”
Free Trade Area
Maggi says Brazil should consider at least three approaches to trade. First, he says, Brazil should strengthen the Mercosur trade bloc consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
A trade deal with the European Union would also be a good alternative, he adds. “We should also study entry into a Free Trade Area of the Americas, as long as agricultural subsidies and the opening of (the U.S.) markets are put on the table for discussion.”
Otherwise, says Maggi, there is no reason for Brazil to participate in a hemisphere-wide free-trade area. “World poverty,” says the governor, “is a real threat to the security of the rich nations.”
Maggi can be colorful and forceful in his explanations. In spite of that, he hasn't given up his sense of humor. Asked what one message he would like to pass on to U.S. soybean producers, he says, laughing, “Stop planting soybeans and grow other crops, like corn, for example. We can take care of world demand for soybeans.”