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International Farm Management Conference, Brazil

Silage production in BrazilLaura Biddick, one of four Extension Officers from the Grassland Challenge Project was given the challenge of presenting a paper to an international audience at Sao Paolo, Brazil recently. The UK's Institute of Farm Management approached the Cornish-based grassland management knowledge transfer project to ask them to explain their success at the conference entitled "Developing Entrepreneurship Abilities to Feed the World in a Sustainable Way".

This was the 15th Congress of the International Farm Management Association, which holds conferences every other year in countries with prominence in the agricultural and livestock sectors. Their purpose is to seek solutions for problems that deal with food supply in a sustainable way by facilitating the effective improvement of farm management worldwide. This is carried out through exchanging ideas, experience and knowledge, learning about the agriculture of the organising country and stimulating contacts between farmers, teachers, advisers, researchers, policy-makers and agribusiness at national and international levels.

Here, Laura reports on her experiences during the study tour.

"Brazil – the landmass is bigger than the United States if you exclude Alaska; the journey from Recife in the east to the western border with Peru is longer than that from London to Moscow, and the distance between the northern and southern borders is about the same as that between New York and Los Angeles. It is vast.

I took part in a three week study tour around Brazil based around the 5 day International Farm Management Conference, held at Campinas near Sao Paulo. Rapid post war industrialisation made Brazil one of the world's 10 largest economies and put it among the most developed of the Third World Countries. This has not improved the quality of life for the vast majority of Brazilians. What struck me as I travelled across Brazil was the huge difference in wealth between the rich and poor. The level of economic development falls the further north you travel. Brazil is the industrial power house of South America but cannot feed and educate its people. There are extreme inequalities in land distribution, and the natural resources Brazil benefits from, have benefited just a few. 90% of Brazil's electricity is generated from hydropower, about 6% from fossil fuels and 1 % from nuclear power.

The most heavily populated and economically advanced part of the country is the south east with the three cities Sao Paulo, Rio De Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. The currency in Brazil is the Real, in this article shown as R$, the value of 1 R$ is equal to approximately £0.25.

As Brazil is so vast there are distinct climatic regions. In August when I visited it was winter. The south and south east gets cold in the winter between June and September, and as it was the first place we visited, we were greeted with rain. However, the winter between December and March is hot. These temperature differences lessen the closer you go to the equator, and rainfall varies throughout the country. It varied between 15 to 35 degrees when I was there, and mainly the weather was warm and sunny.

The farms tend to get bigger the further north you go, in the south farms are normally small family farms and as you go north the farms are owned by larger families/organisations.

Bodoquena Farm
• 75,000 ha
• 12,000 cows
• 10,000 cattle finished (some bought in)
• Calving season July to November
• Cow calves every other year – due to Pantanal area (flooded 6 months of the year)
• 600 calves are lost each year to the Jaguars
• Hawks also attack at calving

Zebu The Zebu are from India, imported originally into Brazil and crossed with Brazilian cattle to give the Nelore Breed. Nelore are good for heat resistance but lack conformation and muscle. The temperature reaches 40 degrees in the summer with high humidity, and an insecticide for flies and ticks is used (ivormectin). Some cattle are in the feedlot for 3-4 months, with an 8:1 feed: live weight gain ratio, resulting in 3lbs /day live weight gain. They are fed a mixture of maize, sorghum silage and soyabean Simmental-Nelore cross cattle on right and Nelore cattle on the leftshell. 8 % of cattle are put into feedlots and 10 % in total are fed supplements. For the internal market they are slaughtered at 2 - 2 ½ years. The external markets, for example Japan, want 1-2 year old beef. In Mato Grosso Du Sul, they are producing younger beef. Calves are weaned at 9 months, castrated and entered into a feedlot, and slaughtered 4 months later. This younger beef is tender and low in fat.

• Yield average of 3 years (1 ahoba = 15 kg) Yield
• Soyabean (1 bag=60 kg) 58 bags/ha = 3480 kg/ha
• Pasture 1st year, meat prod dwgt/ha 20 ahoba/ha = 300 kg/ha
• Meat during winter/ha, meat prod dwgt/ha 6 ahoba/ha = 90 kg/ha
• Late millet 4500 kg/ha

Production is measured in ahobas. One ahoba is equal to 15 kg. Meat is sold to Rio De Janiero and Sao Paulo. They do not have free access to the European market. The slaughterhouses have an agreement with the Brazil Government to export to the EU.
• 1 steer = 13 ahobas (195 kg carcass weight)
• Price – R$ 51/ahoba, = R$ 663/carcass, or £166 /carcass
• Last year's price was £218 for the same carcass

Supermarkets want 3 mm of fat on the meat – Carrefour (major US supermarket) only buys lean carcasses. Fat is liked for internal market. More is paid for males than females.

There is no trade at moment due to foot and mouth. The value is £156/carcass but none is being traded so slaughterhouses closed again. Constant downward trend of pricing.

On the road farmers have to pay a road tax which is supposed to keep the roads in good condition. R$ 1.50 /head of cattle that travel on the road – can cost if you have two farms. This is only payable on cattle as you have already paid a tax on products such as soya.

Dairy Farm – part of a processing co-op of 90 farmers
• 7 ha farm (18 acres), 5 ha maize, 1 ha pasture, remaining is house, buildings etc
• 20 cows this year, approximately cow/acre
• 350 litres/day last year
• Highest producer 45 l/day/cow, twice daily milking, 7500 l in 2nd lactation
• Almost impossible to rent land
• Husband, wife and son work on their farm
• R$ 15,000 milk sales, = R$ 5000/year net profit (£1,250)

Working in a factory, an employee would earn R$ 200/mth (£50/month) = R$ 2,500/year (£ 625/year). There is 20% unemployment which makes it difficult for family members to find work. Land costs R$ 6000-7000 /ha, equal to £ 1500-1750/ha for good land in Mato Grosso du Sul. The stocking rate for this land was 4.8 cattle/ha (1.9/ac) (in the winter they are extensively stocked). However, prices vary and can be as low as £500/ha for high land, and £200/ha for Pantanal land (flooded for 6 months of the year).

The whole agricultural business would be poor if it was not for coffee, sugar cane and oranges. 80% of orange juice is exported from Brazil. Brazil is a vast country with hugh potential. 150 million hectares of grass and savannah land is yet to be cultivated in Mato Grosso without touching the Amazon! Land is continually being cleared for agriculture. The main potential in Brazil is for coffee, sugar cane for energy/fuel and alcohol, oranges, soya bean and cotton, and increasingly intensive chicken. As for beef, Brazil is the world's largest producer (120% self sufficient) with the lowest cost (1/3rd of UK level), but it lacks quality and they cannot compete in terms of meeting English production standards, or the eating quality. These points need to be pointed out to our UK consumers, and bring more awareness and knowledge of what they buy, relating to taste, quality and production standards/traceability. Having eaten lots of Brazilian beef during the three weeks, most of it was very tough, apart from stewed beef, and for the effort it took in chewing, the flavour wasn't worth it. This is due to the Zebu type of cattle, and also the fact that the meat is not hung, but killed and eaten as soon as possible. A large amount of Brazilian beef goes to N America for processing. Beef production is viable due to the scale and low cost, which we cannot compete with. However, pure European temperate types find it hard to survive let alone thrive in the hot climate or on the extensive forage, and it appears there is little return in the feedlot system. The UK demands high quality tender beef from temperate European breeds. There is also the Foot and Mouth risk; to prevent it they vaccinate 3 times a year, and there is always the risk from nearby countries such as Paraguay, where control is less strict, to become re-infected.

I would like to thank the organisations that helped with funding my trip to Brazil; The Louise Ryan Trust through the RASE, the Studley College Trust, and the Ken Thomas Charitable Trust through the Royal Cornwall Show Association. I would also like to acknowledge the excellent hospitality of the host farmers during the tours organised by the International Farm Management Association."

Cotton harvesting

If you would like to know more, Laura will be available to speak about her trip to Brazil at the Grassland Challenge Annual Conferences. The Cornwall Conference will be held in Lakeview County Club, on Tuesday 8 November and the Devon Conference will be held in the Waie Inn, Crediton on Wednesday 9 November, speakers will cover beef, sheep, dairy, alternative forages, environmental stewardship and grassland management, booking is essential. For further information contact Grassland Challenge 01579 372295 or

Grassland Challenge is a partnership project led by Duchy College on behalf of the Cornish Grassland Societies in association with the Institute of Grassland & Environmental Research (IGER), aiming to improve the competitiveness of grassland and forage producers in Cornwall through technology transfer and dissemination of best practice. This project is part financed by the Objective One European Agricultural Guidance & Guarantee Fund (EAGGF) & Defra.

For further information please contact Laura Biddick of Grassand Challenge on 01579 372296 or email:

The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has invested in Grassland Challenge through the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).

Anyone considering a new horticulture, food and land based industries project is advised to speak with Maria Ford, at Government Office South West on 01752 635015 before commencing development, as there are now only limited funds available due to the successful uptake of funding by the agricultural sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.


Editor's notes:


Clare Morgan
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