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Corn+Soybean Digest

Table Talk In Brazil

In places like Sorento, IL, or Martin, TN, you can find out what farmers are thinking by sitting down for a cup of coffee with those who are in town to pick up seed or parts. Here in Brazil, farmers are more likely to visit one another's homes for a chat, since many live in town.

Even without the convenience of a local coffee shop, though, over the past couple of months I've had the opportunity to talk to a number of producers and others in the ag industry. I've visited with producers in the northern, central and southern growing regions as well as leaders of associations representing farmers.

In case you're wondering, Brazilian soybean farmers agree with you that prices are too low. Oh yeah, and current government policies hurt agriculture more than they help.

Those are givens. But what else is on their minds across the country?

First is the prospect of a big European market opening up with the European Union's (EU) ban on meat and bone meal. As a result of the spread of mad cow disease to Germany and France, the EU has banned the use of animal protein (meat and bone meal) in animal rations.

That animal protein has to be replaced with plant protein, and the best candidate is soybeans.

As the world's No. 2 producer of soybeans, and as a producer of low-cost, high-quality beans, Brazil figures it has a shot at filling most of that feed protein gap. Farmers here are still dealing with the crop that's in the ground. But, depending on how long the ban continues, they could respond by planting more soybeans this year.

The second big issue now among producers is biotech soybeans. Brazil's federal government has approved Roundup Ready soybeans for commercial planting and sale in Brazil, but a court injunction has blocked that approval so far.

In general, across the country, Brazilian farmers want to use biotechnology. They say they've heard of 15-20% economies in production costs for their competitors in the U.S. and Argentina. Even producers who wouldn't plan to plant biotech seeds generally are in favor of getting the courts out of the decision-making process and letting the market decide the issue.

How strongly producers feel about the issue depends, to some extent, on how bad their weed problems are. In the southern part of the country, where soybeans have been grown since the 1970s, producers are dealing with tough weed problems such as wild poinsettia.

Because planting biotech beans isn't yet legal in Brazil, nobody admits to planting them. However, everybody says neighbors are surreptitiously planting contraband Roundup Ready beans brought in from Paraguay or Argentina.

"Come on," says a no-till grower in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, "you would have to be crazy not to plant them."

One big producer in the more northerly state of Minas Gerais estimates that more than 100,000 acres are under biotech production across Brazil. Whether there's any validity to that number or not, he cites the fact that Brazil is importing foods from the U.S. and corn for chicken feed from biotech-producer Argentina. "We're eating (biotech), so why can't we plant it?" he asks.

In Brazil as in the U.S., such topics of the day come and go with the seasons. What remains an ongoing theme among producers in both places are the topics of family and friends - and that it just keeps getting harder to stay in farming.

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