So it began! I left home on the 5th of March with a covering of snow on the ground, leaving the lambing behind and very little grass growth. My Nuffield adventure had started and for the next 12 months sitting in airport and living out of a backpack is my new reality.
Before heading out to the Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC) in Brasilia, Brazil, the 2017 UK Nuffield Farming Scholars had a pre CSC catch up in London for 3 days. With a visit to the House of Lords, media training and leadership workshops there was plenty to take in – but this was only the start.
Then onto Brazil! We landed in Brasilia (the capital) and headed to Centrode Convencoes Israel Pinheiro, which was going to be our home for the next 10 days during the CSC. The CSC was an opportunity to meet all the 2017 Nuffield Farming Scholars from around the world, 72 Scholars assembled from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, France, Canada, the USA, Brazil and South Africa.
The CSC is all about the opportunity to meet new people, network, socialise, expand your own thoughts on your own subject and make contacts to visit places during your own personal travel. With a city tour of Brasilia, visiting community projects, farm and research facility tours as well as a Gala Evening in the Australian Embassy with industry leaders, it wasn’t all fun and games.
The conference was filled with inspirational people involved in Brazilian agriculture, and it soon became apparent the huge potential and scale Brazil has to offer in the future to become an even bigger player on the world market. Brazil is already a major player, being the largest exporter of coffee, sugar cane and orange juice, 2nd biggest exporter of soyabean, beef and poultry and third biggest exporter of maize.
Brazil is 851 million ha, with 61% of the country covered in natural preserved area, and 27.7% of the country used for agriculture. From all the speakers that came to talk, conservation and the environment were high on the agenda, as we saw in Embrapa (the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) where integrated livestock and forest production trials were taking place. The eucalyptus trees on the trial plots would neutralise all the carbon potentially produced by the livestock, the trees where then ready to be harvested in 15 years as a second crop.
With approximately 25% of Agricultural land being set aside for conservation, intensification of agriculture in Brazil looks to come from new technologies to increase the fertility of the land through zero tillage and GMO, along with having the luxury to have two crops in one year. All this could be further advanced with an abundance of rainfall; damning and irrigation could become invaluable in the dry season for increasing yields.
My personal perception of Brazil before heading out there was that there was unsustainable activity in growing crops for export after deforestation. Although deforestation is illegal, in some parts it is still evident, for example in the Amazon region in the north. The majority of produce coming out of Brazil would be coming from the central and southern states where scrub had been cleared instead of rain forest.
Simon Wallace from Lettissimo Dairy described Brazil as “a biological Ferrari,” with the abundance of sun, water, tropical plants and the development of technology. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the dairy that Simon (originally from New Zealand) set up in the state of Sao Paulo, he spoke of the potential of producing milk in Brazil, as they are currently a net importer of milk, with the potential to grow 40-45t DM/ha, allows stocking rates to be increased to 10 cows/ha and produce 45,000 litres/ha on a grass based system with 900kg of supplementary feed, mainly maize.
The farms were set up on 56ha circular irrigation plots, with 550 crossbred cows on each plot, (currently on 11 sites) and could grow grass consistently all year round. If all milk in Brazil was currently produced through this system they would be using ten times less area, allowing the ground to be available to grow something else.
Lettissimo also market their own milk, through branded bottles and have built up a great reputation with their customers for a quality product. Milk demands a 22% higher milk price in Brazil above the global market due to import tariffs. The dairy industry is likely to grow in Brazil but there isn’t the drive from farmers to reach its potential, with other agricultural sectors taking priority. From what I could see, if beef production took on similar steps to increase stocking rates and production per ha, the increase in product would be huge.
Paulo Rigolin, Global Poultry Director for Alltech, highlighted the fact with a growing world demand for food, there are potential issues with less land being available to grow crops, due to desertification, global warming and water shortage, with agriculture using 70% of the world’s water. This highlighted my own project as trying to increase the feed efficiency of protein in ruminants, efficiency of units of water needed to produce every unit of ruminant protein products e.g milk and red meat needs to be highlighted with ruminants seen as being very inefficient.
Andy Duff from Rabobank’s food and agriculture research team, gave us a global financial outlook. He highlighted the downward trend in commodity prices and made the point that the challenge in the future isn’t volume, it’s producing food cheaply enough. The transport infrastructure was highlighted as a huge issue by the majority in Brazil, logistics were increasing the cost of soyabean by 25-33%. When we were out there, 3000 trucks had been stuck for a month on a 200km stretch of dirt road heading from Mato Grosso in the North to ports in the Amazon region due to heavy rain, costing grain traders thousands per day.
After 10 days at the CSC it was time to say goodbye. My time there had been great, with top quality speakers that had opened my mind to the Brazilian and world markets, however meeting great people from across the world had to be the highlight.
Part 2 of my initial trip to Brazil will follow shortly so keep an eye out for new updates as my travels continue!
Senior Dairy Specialist
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