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Corn+Soybean Digest

Who's Buying Brazil's Land?

The most sought-after lands for soybean production in Brazil are in the states of Minas Gerais in the southeast and Mato Grosso in the west central part of the country, according to Jose Antonio de Freitas, a realtor who handles sales and purchases of farmland throughout Brazil.

A lot of younger Brazilian farmers, he says, know it may be tough to get a new farm or expand the current farm in the southern part of the country. So they go north, to the cerrados, or dry grasslands. Or they go really far north, to the often uncleared open spaces of Mato Grosso.

And it's not just southern Brazilians looking for elbow room. Realtor de Freitas has sold land in Minas Gerais to Argentines and Americans, who grow beans or raise cattle - even to a foreigner to raise ostriches.

Several farms are for sale in the panhandle of Minas Gerais state, says de Freitas. That's where producers will increase soybean plantings by up to 30%, according to government estimates. This is the beginning edge of the cerrado that covers Brazil's vast interior. Here, the dry and rainy seasons come and go with a fair amount of predictability.

"The Minas Gerais farms vary from 100 to 800 acres," says de Freitas. Depending on the farm's creek or river access, distance from highways, altitude (usually between 2,500' and 3,000' in the western end of Minas Gerais) and other factors, he says, the per-acre price for a ready-to-go farm oscillates from around US$1,350 to $1,900. This for land that de Freitas estimates would yield 48-58 bu/acre of soybeans.

A buyer usually makes a cash down payment followed by four or five monthly payments. Interest rates are high.

But the hot spot these days is Mato Grosso state, where a new rail line and an intermodal waterway have brought remote and idle grasslands far closer to markets. Mato Grosso farmers have to deal with an unforgiving, but predictable, dry season. The roads are a hazard. But land is relatively fertile and cheap, and weed populations are manageable compared to older areas producing under the burden of years of soybean monoculture. Farms often stretch from horizon to horizon and beyond, without a fence in sight.

Realtor de Freitas says he has sold farms in the area that produce up to 68 bu/acre. Meanwhile, habits from the bad old days of hyperinflation die hard in Mato Grosso, and farm prices are usually discussed in terms of bushels of soybeans rather than in currency.

As a result, farmers and realtors are currently offering land in Mato Grosso state at prices of between 20 and 200 bu/acre of soybeans, depending on whether it's cleared or not, and whether it's close to a river or road.

Prices are based on Chicago Board of Trade prices, and it's between buyer and seller whether payment is actually made in soybeans or the equivalent value of those beans in currency.

Payment terms are better in Mato Grosso, too. Typically, says de Freitas, the buyer has from one to four years to pay.

Finally, says de Freitas, foreigners looking to buy land in Brazil should be aware that they might have plenty of negotiating to do on price.

"Brazilians plead and argue for discounts, always wanting to pay less than the actual value of the land," he says. "But many foreigners do the math, and if it's a fair deal, they don't argue." That may translate into the seller starting the negotiations on the high side when selling to a foreigner.

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