Spilling the beans on Brazilian Agriculture

By Sarah Foster, 20/20 Seed Labs Inc.


As the world’s population is demanding more calories Brazil is poised to be the powerhouse to meet those demands. Forty per cent of the world’s population will be fed by Brazil’s agricultural production, according to Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation).
Kevin Zaychuk, business development manager for 20/20 Seed labs Inc, and I joined the Agritech Canada Brazil trade mission at the beginning of May. We had the pleasure of meeting a number of Brazilian entrepreneurs and research scientists through the Canadian Commission for Trade and Foreign affairs. We, in turn, were accompanied by a handful of like-minded enthusiastic Canadian entrepreneurs eager to learn about Brazil and its economy.
The whirlwind week started with a three hour bus ride inland from São Paulo to Ribeirao Preto for the renowned South American five day technical Agrishow that is attended by 150,000 people. This truly was a very special agricultural event, the show was dominated by sophisticated farm machinery such as sugar cane and coffee harvesters as well as seed and grain companies.
As you might expect, all the household names and brands that we know worldwide were there. Top of mind was Syngenta’s new experimental variety of coffee beans, NuCafe which was plentiful at their booth with a big line up of espresso machines.
The most compelling feature of this show was everyone’s optimistic attitude and their personal contribution to agriculture. It was apparent very early on that the common thread we all shared is to feed the growing population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The focus on being efficient through technology and a “smart” approach would best describe this event and it made me think of Canada’s seed synergy initiative and the future of our industry.
Brazil has a clearly defined its role to address feeding the world. We learned that some of their innovative ideas included serious stewardship. Brazil is a tropical country having over 60 per cent of its land mass dedicated to native vegetation. Preserving the Eco system is legislated so rules around re-forestation after harvesting is monitored. Less than 10 per cent of the land mass is actually dedicated to agriculture. Having 2.2 harvests per year certainly boosts their ability to produce a succession of crops, but it is their attention to the production of these crops that is important. The Brazilian agricultural sector has been transformed from a traditional system of production with low use of modern technologies to a world agricultural leader.
Brazil’s science and technology investments and other public policies have been crucial for enabling the country to discover its agricultural potential and increase farm production. A good example is that crops have to be produced in a sustainable way, weed control for the area surrounding the field or at the edge of pivot circles has to be effective otherwise there are heavy fines. In addition, arable land must be producing a crop otherwise the government has the right to take back your land.
After the Agrishow we moved on to Piracicaba going back towards São Paulo where we toured the Luiz de Quieroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ) which is a unit of the university of São Paulo. ESALQ is one of the worlds top agricultural universities and here we were introduced to graduates, scientists and statisticians involved in research, teaching and extension services in agriculture, animal husbandry and related sciences. The university even has a working sugar cane distillery producing barrel-aged Cachaça, the Brazilian national drink.
When it comes to agriculture in Brazil, the production figures are staggering. Brazil produces five per cent of the world’s orange juice, 30 per cent of the world’s sugar cane, and a staggering 20 per cent of the world’s coffee beans. Brazil also produces 30 per cent of the world’s soybean crop. Known as the other king of beans, Brazil now competes with the United States for soybean, corn and cotton as well.
Meat too is an important staple for Brazil as they are the biggest beef and poultry exporter. More than $12 billion in all meat products was shipped in 2016 to clients in over 150 countries. And they are proud of their business with Saudi Arabia, which is the principal chicken importer to the tune of $1.15 billion.
Sugar cane by far is one of its most impressive crops. Brazil is expected to produce 684.77 million tonnes of sugarcane in the 2016/17 crop, a 2.9 per cent increase from the previous season. Sugar cane, a perennial crop often in production for five years generating an average yield of 75 tonnes per hectare and produces as much as 100 t/ha in some areas. Sugar production is expected to increase 19.3 per cent, to 39.96 million tonnes in 2016/17, due to higher prices for the commodity. While sugar cane is also used for ethanol and bio electricity, the focus is on sugar production.
Speaking of which, ethanol production should total around 27.8 billion litres which is manufactured from leftover fibres, stalks and leaves which makes sugarcane the largest source of renewable energy in Brazil. Sugarcane provides almost 17 per cent of the country’s total energy supply, second only to oil and ahead of hydro-electricity. More than 40 per cent of the country’s gasoline needs have been replaced by sugarcane ethanol, making gasoline the alternative fuel in Brazil.
When re-fueling at a gas station in Brazil you have the option of purchasing gasoline, diesel or ethanol.
Sugar cane, of course, is also used for the national drink Cachaça which is made with the fresh pressed juice of sugarcane, called garapa. It packs a punch at 38-48 per cent alcohol volume and is consumed with much gusto.
I think the national flag of Brazil sums it up perfectly as it tells the story of collaboration and unification. Each of the 27 states and federal districts are depicted as a star; the globe displays a white equatorial band with the motto ORDEM E PROGRESSO which means Order and Progress. This motto has definitely encouraged the modernization of agriculture through careful planning for economical solutions that will sustain the quality of life and meet their goals of feeding a significant percentage of the world.

The production of sugar cane and other crops for alcohol, energy and food puts Brazil in another league when it comes to agriculture, says Sarah Foster, president and senior seed analyst at 20/20 Seed Labs Inc.
Sarah Foster, president and senior seed analyst at 20/20 Seed Labs Inc.